Waterproof and FireproofBy Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
Now G-d says to Israel not to fear; He is the one Who redeemed them and they are His. When they pass through waters, they will not drown and when they pass through fire, they will not be burned. (Sadly, we know that this was not literally true of individuals. The prophecy refers to the nation as a whole.) G-d is the Savior of Israel, allowing Assyria to overrun other nations in their place. This is because the Jewish people are special to G-d.
Again G-d says not to fear. He will gather the exiles from the four corners of the Earth. The people were spiritually “blind” and “deaf” when they left Egypt, too, but they became able to “see” and “hear.” If all the nations of the world were gathered together, which of their prophets could foretell the future? Let them present their case so we can see whether it is true. The Jewish people are G-d’s witnesses, testifying to the fact that He alone is G-d; there was none before Him and there will be none after Him. Besides Him, there is no Savior. Since Creation, He is G-d, and the fate of the world is His call alone. Nobody can thwart His will.
G-d says that because of our sins, He exiled Israel to Babylonia, but He will disable the ships. He made a path in the sea when the Jews left Egypt, demolishing Pharaoh’s army in the process. But don’t focus on the troubles of the past; soon, we will have the future redemption to occupy our thoughts. G-d will do something new; He will make a road in the desert and rivers in the wilderness. The animals of the wastelands will honor G-d for turning desolation into a place of settlements for the sake of His people.
But Israel did not call upon G-d. Instead, they turned to idols. They didn’t sacrifice to G-d, but to false gods. G-d made it easy to serve Him – a handful of meal, a pinch of frankincense – but they still ignored Him. Instead, they tired Him with their sins. But G-d will erase those sins for His sake and will not recall them. (This verse is part of the Amidah prayer on Yom Kippur.) G-d encourages the Jewish people to remind Him of the reward earned by the Forefathers. Even Abraham erred when he asked G-d for a sign and nobody speaking on behalf of Israel is free from sin, which is why G-d allowed the nation to be isolated and scorned.