Isaiah 43:1–3 1 But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2 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. 3 For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
The context established in chapter 42, verses 18-25, explains that the Lord is bringing judgment on His people for their disobedience and idolatry. Their refusal to repent means they will reap judgment. “Who gave up Jacob to the looter, and Israel to the plunderers? Was it not the Lord, against whom we have sinned, in whose ways they would not walk, and whose law they would not obey?” (Isaiah 42:24) The people of Israel experience judgment because God will not let His people who bear His name defy His will and ways without consequence. (We should not understand judgment here as condemnation but as refining discipline.)
With the context established, we can read these verses in Biblical light. The people of God are created and formed by His hand. They are instructed not to fear being forsaken and tossed aside by the purifying judgment that comes upon them. The Lord has paid the price for them; therefore, they belong to Him. The discipline of judgment will not separate the people from their Lord. Waters, rivers, and fire are figurative representations of the various ways judgment will come to His people. The Lord is with His people through judgment and will ultimately be their Savior.
These words of Isaiah should be reassuring to us as followers of Jesus as well. We are new creations in Christ Jesus; the blood of the Lamb redeemed us; we have been called by name; we belong to the Lord. When God disciplines us for sin and selfishness, it is an act of love and refinement. “10 …but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:10b–11)
When passing through the waters, rivers, and fires of refining judgment and discipline from the Lord, we are assured that we are not forsaken. The Lord is with us through it all. His glorious purposes will be accomplished in and through us (Cf. 1 Peter 4:17). By His grace and for His glory, we are being trained to obey and reap the fruit of righteousness. Refinement is rough and unavoidable, and it is ultimately for our good.
Take heart, child of God. The Lord your God is with you, and He is mighty to save and sanctify!