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Understanding God’s Word

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. Isaiah 43:2 (NRSV)

Today’s devotion is about reading and interpreting scripture using Isaiah 43:2 as an example.

Much of the book of Isaiah is written as poetry. Unlike English poetry, which rhymes, Hebrew poetry uses parallelism. Parallelism involves setting two lines side by side, where the second line either mirrors, contrasts or repeats the idea of the first line. For example, here's how parallelism operates in this verse:

Water and Fire:

  • The verse pairs two contrasting elements: water and fire.

  • The first part describes passing through waters, symbolizing challenges, trials, or difficult circumstances.

  • The second part refers to walking through fire, representing adversity, persecution, or intense trials.

God's Presence and Protection:

  • In both cases, God promises His presence and protection:

  • When passing through waters, God assures, "I will be with you."

  • When walking through fire, the promise remains: "You shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you."

  • The parallelism reinforces the idea that God accompanies us through all life's trials, whether they involve water or fire.

Assurance of Safety:

  • The rivers will not overwhelm, and the flames will not consume.

  • The repetition of "not" emphasizes God's unwavering care and safeguarding.

Understanding the form in which scripture is written is essential to understanding its meaning. It provides contextual clarity and theological meaning and helps prevent us from misinterpreting scripture. For example, if we were to read this verse literally, we might wrongly interpret it to mean we can walk into the ocean and not be drowned and rush into a burning building and not be burned; God will save us.

God indeed guided people through waters without harm: Israel at the Red Sea (Exodus 14:26), again at the Jordan River (Joshua 3:16), and later Elijah at the Jordan River (2 Kings 2:8). He also protected Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:23). But in each of these cases, the characters' actions were not to test God (Deuteronomy 6:16). 

The focus of the message in interpreting all scripture is coming to understand–as best we can–who God is. In today’s verse, the overarching theme is God’s unwavering presence and protection during challenging times.

We find solace in knowing that God’s presence transcends physical boundaries. Whether navigating life’s turbulent waters or facing the scorching fires of adversity, we stand under the shadow of His wings. His protection defies logic, surpassing the limitations of our mortal understanding.

As we conclude, let us embrace the paradox: God’s presence is mysterious and profoundly authentic. While we seek to understand God, we trust in the divine mystery and give thanks for his presence and protection.

Heavenly Father,

We come before you with hearts open, seeking wisdom and understanding. You, who knit us together in our mother’s womb, know the depths of our minds—the questions, the doubts, and the yearning for clarity. Open our minds, Lord, and unveil the mysteries hidden in your Word. Illuminate our thoughts with the light of truth. Grant discernment as we navigate life’s complexities. We thank You, gracious God, for Your unwavering presence:

In the quiet moments, when doubts assail us, remind us that you are near. In the storms of life, when chaos threatens, be our refuge and strength. In ordinary days, when routine numbs our senses, may we remain awakened to your constant care.

We praise you for your protection. You are the shield that deflects arrows of fear, the fortress that stands unshaken, and the wings under which we find refuge.

Lord, we offer our gratitude for the breath in our lungs, a gift from your hand, the paths you’ve guided us through, both rocky and serene, and the unseen battles you’ve fought on our behalf. 

May our understanding continually deepen and our hearts overflow with thanksgiving for you.

In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.


Pastor Tim

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