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What is the meaning of “streams in the desert” in Isaiah 43:19?


streams in the desert
Question: "What is the meaning of ‘streams in the desert’ in Isaiah 43:19?"

Answer:
Isaiah 43:19 mentions “streams in the desert” as part of a promise to God’s people: “Behold, I am about to do something new; even now it is coming. Do you not see it? Indeed, I will make a way in the wilderness and streams in the desert” (BSB). The imagery is also rendered “rivers in the dry wasteland” (NLT) and “rivers in the desert” (NASB). In context, God promises that He would make Israel’s captors, Babylon, into captives (Isaiah 43:14). The Lord, the “Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel,” would deliver Israel from Babylon.

In Isaiah 43:16–17, God compares Israel’s deliverance from Babylon to their prior exodus from Egypt, when God had “made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters” (verse 16). The Lord promises that He will now do “a new thing” (verse 19):
“Indeed, I will make a way in the wilderness
and streams in the desert. . . .
I provide water in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert,
to give drink to My chosen people” (verses 19–20, BSB).
The result is that “the people I formed for Myself will declare My praise” (verse 21, BSB).

Just as God had provided a way through the Red Sea during Israel’s exodus from Egypt (Exodus 14:21), so would He provide “streams in the desert” for them on their return from exile in Babylon. The Lord would provide all they needed to leave Babylon and reestablish their home in the Promised Land. Even when there appears to be no way, God makes a way for those who trust in Him. That way would be as miraculous as “streams in the desert.”

The picture of streams in the desert is a common one in Scripture, as God encourages His people in need. In Isaiah 41, the Lord promises His people that, in their frailty, He will supply:
“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.
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” (verses 17–18).
In Psalm 126:3, the faithful pray, “Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev.”

Jesus likened the gift of His Spirit to living water: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them” (John 7:37–38). Jesus used a similar metaphor when He spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well: “Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).

A classic devotional book titled Streams in the Desert was published in 1925 by Mrs. Lettie Cowman, a pioneer missionary in Japan and China. She compiled her devotional during her husband’s terminal illness, and the result has brought comfort to countless readers who also face difficult times.

Recommended Resource: Streams in the Desert by L.B. Cowman

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