The forty-third chapter of Isaiah always reminds me of a rugged lumberjack who used to attend the little church at Prouty in the heart of Pennsylvania’s northern wilderness. He had gotten himself in trouble in the woods many times. Sudden spring rains would swell the brook he needed to cross. The hillsides are steep and it’s easy to slip and find oneself swept down the Sinnemahoning Creek. He always found, though, that "God is a hand in high water.”
Isaiah says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you..."(Isaiah 43:2). There are two ways of understanding the "you" here, just as God always uses two hands when doing something important like saving us.
First is the personal you, for each of as individuals keep discovering God to be our only real security in an uncertain world. We remember particular illnesses, accidents, and narrow escapes where we depended upon his hand in our high water. Isaiah's deeper point here is that even when we don't escape injury, God is with us. It's the Lord's steady companionship that as we mature as Christians, we grow to appreciate.
Second, the context of Isaiah implies that God is making these promises to the nation of Israel. They are the ones who are in high water with both their captivity in Babylon and their return to the Promised Land. The neighborhood has become rough, while they were away. It's not certain that they will survive as an independent people.
To this struggling people, God's message is that they should not be afraid, for God has both created and redeemed them. Redemption is the hand in high water. Creation is the relationship that precedes the rescue. Isaiah 43 reminds people that both are at play. God's ownership of us through the fact of his creation insures that He will not let us go.
Each of us have been created twice. On the one hand, we have been birthed into this world as unique individuals. God has a plan for each of us. Unfortunately, everyone else does too. We pray for our creator to help us discern what He has created in us.
On the other hand, we believe that God has both created and owned our nation. We must be careful here, I am not advocating the concept of American exceptionalism, even though Isaiah 43 was a favorite text for the great revivalists of the 1800s. Our experience is that of God making our country uniquely great, just as the people of Israel heard the prophets and thought of their own land. The people of every nation will hear God speaking to them in terms of their own history and polity. Each people of God will have their own struggle to make justice roll down like an ever-flowing stream in their country. We are called to further the freedom of all people, by sacrificing to keep our own nation free. As we work collectively together, we must discern the will of God without political bias.
Most of us will hear God's "I will be with you..." in a third way. God is also the great protector of our current home, the people we love, as well as our family of origin. Further He is present with our particular ethnic people. We must be careful here again, just as American exceptionalism is a problem, so also thoughtless or prejudicial pride in our people is wrong.
We must learn to pray without prejudice and make collective decisions without bias.