But what are we needing to be saved from? What are the waters that threaten to overflow us (v. 2a)? What is this fire that threatens to scorch us (v. 2b)?
One clue comes down at v. 6. God's people are being "detained," "shut up." Another clue comes from the poetry immediately before this lesson. According to 42:25, God's people now feel the "heat of God's anger." They are in the midst of "fire" and "flame," just as in our text (43:2b). These are allusions to the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 bce and the exile of God's people to Babylonia.
Again, according the preceding poetry (42:22), God's people are "trapped in caves," "hidden away in prisons," "a prey." This is the same situation that was at issue in my earlier posts this week on Daniel in the Lion's Pit as an image and symbol of exile! This is probably no coincidence. The book of Daniel is known to draw intentionally on earlier Scriptures, such as the poems of Isaiah 40 - 66.
In exile, one is in a "pit" or water-cistern, where the waters of chaos threaten to flow over one's head and "cut one off" (see Lamentations 3:54). Isaiah knows that the life of faith has repeating low points of darkness and judgment, when such "waters" rush in and even rise up to the neck (see Isaiah 8:7-8).
As I mentioned in those posts on Daniel 6, for the faithful to be restricted by exile means for them to be left unsupported by kin, neighbors, and the public worship of God. It is to feel the loss of true community, where mutual love, unconditional support, and other values of God are upheld and celebrated. In this sense, God's people today are very much in "exile" from our true home in God's reign.
The good news of the salvation oracle in Isaiah 43 is that God directly addresses this experience of exile. The heart of the good news comes smack in the middle of the lesson at v. 4a...
More soon. Stay tuned...