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God’s Word for You

Isaiah 41:17-20

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The traveler gave up trying to pick his feet up as he trudged through the dunes. There was no water in sight. The sky was as hard as a frying pan. The nights were a freezing nightmare, alternating between terrifying dust storms that tore away his flesh, and cold spells filled with the howls of hungry animals and the hysterical shrieks of desert birds, unclean predators like vultures (Leviticus 11:13) hopping alongside him as they waited for their meal to collapse. The days were worse. The sun and the sand and the salt and the stones were all his enemies, and clouds were not even a memory any longer.

Sometimes the words of the Bible came to his mind. Those memories could be terrible: “Over all the barren heights in the desert destroyers will swarm” (Jeremiah 12:12). “Wild donkeys stand on the barren heights and pant like jackals; their eyesight fails for lack of pasture” (Jeremiah 14:6). “I will leave you in the desert… I will give you as food to the beasts of the earth and the birds of the air” (Ezekiel 29:5).

The traveler dropped to his knees beside a boulder that was just a little too small to give any shade. He gave up. There was no hope and there was no help in sight. He tried to blink the crust from his eyes, but he could no longer see.

“Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

He blinked again, and again. A tall shape stood a little way off, something that looked as if it didn’t belong. It was tall, and it had a quality he couldn’t quite recall… It was, it was… green. That was it. The tall green thing… could it be? A tree! A whole line of trees, tall and straight and full of life. If there were trees, could there be? There was—too wonderful to imagine—water! There was a stream of water flowing up and away, and all along its banks there was life; trees, grass, flowers, and even fruit growing on vines…

The traveler would have died. But the water sprang up and gave him life. It rescued him. The traveler in the desert would live.

This is what our God has done for us. Every oasis in the desert is a reminder of the way our God saves us. Every desert’s edge is a gospel message for the world to see: Jesus Christ, the Living Water, has rescued us from the hopeless desert of our sins. He has given us eternal life.

17 “The poor and needy search for water,
     but there is none;
     their tongues are parched with thirst.
But I the LORD will answer them;
     I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.
18 I will make rivers flow on barren heights,
     and springs within the valleys.
I will turn the desert into pools of water,
     and the parched ground into springs.
19 I will put in the desert
     the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive.
I will set pines in the wasteland,
     the fir and the cypress together,
20 so that people may see and know,
     may consider and understand,
that the hand of the LORD has done this,
     that the Holy One of Israel has created it. (NIV)

Note: Isaiah is partly echoing the imagery of a prophecy by Hosea with a similar picture but a different meaning: “When I found Israel, it was like finding grapes in the desert” (Hosea 9:10). There, the point is that when Israel entered into the covenant with God at Mount Sinai, it was something no other nation had ever done. Here, the point is that God’s rescue of mankind is something that could have come from nowhere else.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.