The meaning of Isaiah 43:2 is overflowing with a powerful promise from God to be with, to rescue, and to restore the people He loves. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you” is one of the most popular Scripture portions. But we often miss its deeper meaning because we are missing the context.
In this post, I am breaking down and squeezing out all the juice that space and time will allow.
What is Isaiah 43 talking about?
Isaiah was a prophet in Israel. His messages were primarily to Jews living in Judah and Jerusalem.
In the first half of the book of Isaiah, the prophet delivers a bitter message to the people. He tells them that destruction is coming.
Why is destruction coming?
Because the people are practicing idol worship and a variety of sins that make God very unhappy. The coming destruction would be God’s punishment for their disobedience and wickedness.
How will the destruction come?
God was going to send the nation of Babylon to plunder and destroy Judah and Jerusalem. The Jews were going to be carried away as slaves to Babylon.
(This is how Daniel, Sharach, Meshach, and Abednego ended up in Babylon fighting to worship God.)
Nevertheless, despite this bitter news, God doesn’t leave them without hope. Isaiah’s message of hope begins in chapter 40.
He tells the people that God would deliver them from Babylonian slavery. They would return to their homeland.
In chapter 43 God tells the people through Isaiah that He will reclaim, redeem, and restore them.
Isaiah 43 is like a love letter to His people.
What is the meaning of Isaiah 43:1 and 2
What is the meaning of Isaiah 43:1
Although this post is about verse 2, we can get a deeper understanding by exploring verse 1 first.
Let’s explore it briefly before jumping into the meat of verse 2.
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.
There are many key words and ideas here: created, redeemed, called you by name, you are mine.
These words are loaded with meaning but I will explore only one right now: redeemed.
Remember I said earlier that the Jews would end up in slavery?
Redeemed here refers to the act of buying back a slave, especially one captured during war. In those days, if a person wanted to redeem a slave they had to pay money or give something worth the cost of the slave. This money or item was often referred to as a ransom or the price paid.
You will see why this is important to know later on.
The meaning of Isaiah 43:2 explanation
Verse 2 uses the idea of water and fire. How would the Jews at that time have understood these images?
This little background will help us to truly appreciate God’s message.
What does deep waters mean in the Bible?
In the Bible deep waters can have several different meanings but in Isaiah 43:2 deep waters represent calamity and distress.
Here is a another reference carrying the idea:
Psalm 69:1 Save me, O God, for the floodwaters are up to my neck. NLT
In the same way, fire represents danger and calamity in the Bible.
Here’s another reference:
Psalm 62:12 You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.
We can see that when God says, “When you pass through the waters…and when you pass through the fire”, he is telling them that were going to face some hard, rough, distressing seasons.
BUT, they wouldn’t be alone in those seasons.
God could say this with confidence because He had a track record with their ancestors.
Which takes us to the meat of Isaiah 43:2.
What does pass through the waters mean?
Keep in mind that God is speaking to the Jews through Isaiah. This nation had a long historical relationship with God that really took shape when the Israelites were released from Egypt decades earlier.
During the journey from Egypt to the promised land, the Israelites had multiple experiences where they had to cross bodies of water. The most popular story in Scripture is the crossing of the Red Sea in Exodus 14.
God rolled up the waters and let them pass through. This is why He said “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you”.
Another water event was the crossing of the Jordan River in Joshua 3. In this particular situation, the river had overflowed its banks by the time the Israelites had gotten to it.
Crossing it was dangerous. They ran the risk of being swept away. But God created a dam and stopped the flow of the river so they could cross over.
This is why God said, “and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.”
On both of these occasions, God showed up. He rolled up the waters and allowed over 2 million people to cross on dry land.
The generation of Jews that Isaiah was talking to knew these stories about their ancestors. They lived on these stories. Their faith was built on these stories.
And so God used these past events to assure them that no matter what difficult situation they were in God would be with them it. More on this later.
But, interrupting water traffic wasn’t the only thing that God was preparing to do for them.
The next verse details a few more of God’s plans.
Isaiah 43:3 meaning
To refresh our verse, Isaiah 43:3 says
For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you.
There are two parts to this verse.
Isaiah 43:3 For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel
In the first part, God identifies himself. He highlights 3 different roles he plays in their life:
The Holy One of Israel
Why did He need to do this? Didn’t they already know who God was?
Israel wasn’t in a good place spiritually. They were worshiping other gods so God needed to remind them that He was Elohim, the one true Go who is above all gods but who was also their personal God. He said ” I am …YOUR God”.
They were involved in all kinds of idolatry and unclean things. Their morals had completely gone to the dogs.
Everything from fornication and adultery to eating what God had told them not to eat to sacrificing their children to false gods.
God needed to remind them that He is the Holy One. That He did not approve of the impurity among them. God couldn’t live among them while they were in that state.
And finally, He needed to remind them that just as He showed up for their ancestors at the Red Sea to deliver them, He would also deliver them from slavery when the time came. He would save them.
God’s desire was to pull Israel back into a relationship with him.
This verse begins with the word “For” which the idea is connected to the previous verse.
Here’s the rub: God can do all He promised to do in verse 2 because of who He is them:
The Holy One of Israel
After identifying Himself and reassuring them that He was powerful to fulfill His promises, God goes on to explain further how He plans to show that He is their God and Savior.
Isaiah 43:3 meaning – I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you.
Remember earlier I talked about the purpose of a ransom?
This is where the second part of verse 3 comes in.
Since God wasn’t about to give money to Babylon to get back the Jews, He orchestrated the events of history to accomplish this goal.
Let me explain.
In Isaiah 45, King Cyrus is called by God. Although he is a pagan king, God uses him and his descendants to conquer Egypt, Cush (which is modern day Ethiopia), and Seba (a country located in Northern Africa). Read through Isaiah 45 to get the connection.
The defeat of these places would allow the release and deliverance of the Jews.
These three places listed were powerful at that time. They were economically strong and had military strength as well.
If you read Isaiah 45 you will see that God would make it so that Cyrus would conquer them regardless of their military might.
Instead of allowing Israel to be destroyed by any other country, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Seba would be destroyed. This was God’s act of ransoming His chosen and beloved people.
Why was God going through all this trouble to get back a set of people who constantly wandered away from him?
What can we learn from this tiny portion of Scripture?
There are many lessons to draw but I will highlight only 2.
Lessons from the meaning of Isaiah 43:2
You are extremely precious to God
God is going to great lengths to save these Israelites. Why is He doing all this? What’s His motivation?
The answer is in the first part of verse Isaiah 43:4
Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you,… (ESV)
I hope you realize by now where I’m going with this.
God has done for you what He did for the Jews back then.
You are so precious to God that He will do whatever it takes to save you. Just like He gave nations to rescue Israel, God made the ultimate sacrifice.
He gave Jesus as a ransom for you and me. And He did it long before we cared enough to acknowledge Him as God.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 ESV)
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 (ESV)
It doesn’t matter how far you have strayed. God is declaring this truth to a people who are utterly sinful and hard-hearted.
But their condition wasn’t bad enough to decrease their value in God’s sight.
Because God sees us not for who we have chosen to become but for who He created us to be.
There is no one on earth that has placed so much value on you and your life. Your life is worth the life of God himself.
You are loved beyond measure my friend. God wants you to know that you are so dear to Him that nothing is too good to give in exchange for you, not even His own life.
If you struggle to make this real, repeat this often: “I am precious and I am loved”.
When negative thoughts and feelings creep in, repeat it. Write it repeatedly until your soul believes it.
You are never alone, no matter how you feel
When we go through hard seasons of life, we can feel alone, even in a crowd. There is something about experiencing trials that can make you feel like nobody truly understands what you are feeling.
But, rest assured that God does.
As God is speaking through Isaiah, He is comforting the Jees with the news that whether they go through flood or fire, they wouldn’t be alone.
God wanted them to know that no matter the crisis they would face because of their disobedience, He would not let them be alone.
That’s why He said in verse 2, ” I will be with you” and verse 5 he said, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you”.
You can take these promises to the bank my friend.
If you have ever been through a season where you were sure you were going to lose your mind but you came out with your mental health intact, then you know God was with you in the flood.
If you have been through a time when you were pretty sure you were going to die but you are living and declaring the goodness of God, then you know He’s been with you in the fire.
If you have made bad decisions and thought you would never ever recover from the losses you suffered as a result but you are now living in a season of healing and restoration, you can be certain you were never walking alone in your hard season.
That you have scars, that you still have pains, that you still remember are all just evidence that you have been through something.
But the reason you survived it all and you are still here to tell the story is because God was there with you in the middle of it.
Believe it or not, God cushions every blow that life hurls at you. God’s grace stands between you and your trials.
God gives us what we need to endure tough times.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness…” 2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV
…But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV
God’s promise is that He would never leave His children. If you are in a hard season right now, God is in it with you. Regardless of how you feel, you have to know this truth.
Job certainly didn’t feel God’s presence but he declared: “I know my redeemer lives”.
Keep your eyes peeled and your spirit open to seeing and feeling how God shows up during hard times. He’s ALWAYS there.
Isaiah 43:2 a promise from God?
The short answer is: Yes. There is absolutely a promise from God in Isaiah 43:2. In fact, the whole chapter is filled with promises.
God’s promise in Isaiah 43:2 is to dwell with His people throughout various seasons of crisis, rescue them from those seasons, restore them to their home, and rebuild them. And he does it all because He is so madly in love with His people who are more precious to him than our own lives are to us.
Although I only discussed two lessons from this portion of Scripture, I encourage you to dig in and pull out more lessons.
Journal around them and allow God to speak to your heart.
Isaiah 43:2 Bible versions
Isaiah 43:2 KJV
When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.
Isaiah 43:2 NIV
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
Isaiah 43:2 The Message
When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you. When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down. When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end—Because I am God, your personal God, The Holy of Israel, your Savior.
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