When I think of the importance of the New Testament for God’s global church today, I think also of Isaiah. It really is the fifth gospel. And in this tiny passage we can see why. I especially love the imagery of a stream in the wasteland (think: urban jungle, suburban sprawl, or natural disaster). We all need a cool drink of water and some hopeful guidance for a better future.
Well, there is no doubt that a new thing cannot be understood apart from reference to the old, but Israel is told here to get her mind off the old and on to the new—because it pertains to a new reality and not to an ancient memory of failure, and because the new thing God had in store was more dazzling, more overwhelming, more massive than any old memory. Biblical faith is geared toward the future.
So as we think about the future, should we forget the past? New things are part of our DNA in the West. Our culture is fueled by new things, innovation, and the next generation of technology-x. So, it is not hard to get along with God’s word here for Israel. Hey, if someone came along and said: Keith, forget your past, all the ugly and dark pieces, I would say: wow, done. I like that message. But on the other hand, my past is important to me, and let’s not forget that in Genesis, God in the end “Turned everything that was meant for evil into good…into the salvation for many.”
So, what do we do when we are heading toward a future that looks painfully like the past?I think about our American story. I especially think of the rhetoric these days that wants us to go back to the past. In response, it’s easy to look ahead and say, “forget what was in the past, and look ahead.” In the end that’s fine, but we can’t forget historical lessons that warn us of human capacity for evil, American capacity for evil. And we cannot forget that even after this message in Isaiah, some in Israel still killed the Landowner’s son.
God did a new thing in Jesus, but many in Israel rejected him. God’s new thing is always massively good. Our future is bright. But we must learn to join God in transforming historical injustice into future good. God’s point in Isaiah is this: we simply can not let our past failures prevent us from His future. We must get on board with God’s new thing for the 21st century, whatever it is, knowing that it will likely mean redemptive suffering for the past, the present, and the days to come.