With the start of a new year, I believe the first lesson needs to set the tone for the year and point us in a specific direction. As I gave this some thought, I remembered a Bible verse someone presented to me that I posted next to my desk. It is a verse that reminded me about something worthy for us all to be reminded of in our walk with Christ. Before I tell you the verse, we need to get some background.
Our text for today will come from Isaiah, the prophet. Some have said that his prophecies bring with them a paradox. On the one hand, he writes of judgment because of the sins within His people, Judah. Isaiah 2:8 says, “Their land is also full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made.” God’s people had become prosperous and, in so doing, found themselves turning from their God. They had become rebellious towards Him, as in Isaiah 6:9, “Go, and tell this people: Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.” Judgment would be coming, “The strong shall be as tinder, and the work of it as a spark; both will burn together, and no one will quench them” (Isaiah 1:31). As sad as this story is, Isaiah the prophet also speaks of hope. For God their Redeemer (Isaiah 43:14) will gather the remnant of His people, “Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your descendants from the east, and gather you from the west” (Isaiah 43:5). God has always yearned for His creation to trust in Him. It is here that we consider Isiah 41:10.
“Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God.”
As one commentator writes, it is essential to remember that these words are “addressed to the exiled Jews during their long and painful captivity in Babylon.” You can imagine how they must have struggled under the oppression of their captives and the regret of their sinful behavior that brought them to this point. But what God promised them back then is true today for His people. What is His promise? Before we can answer that question, there is something they would need to do. He wants them, in the face of adversity, to not fear and not be dismayed. As is often the case, I like the simplicity of the ETRV, “Don’t worry…Don’t be afraid…”. As one person writes, the “reason why they should not be afraid. God was their protector.” God invited them to look towards Him once again, for He is with them. He is their God (ELOHIM, their mighty, great, awesome ruler). They had lost sight of that truth, which was why they were where they were at the time. The truth is, it is so easy to lose sight of God, right? The business of life. The trappings of this world and what it has to offer, which at best is temporary. It is easy to allow circumstances to hold you captive, distorting reality and dismantling hope. With a renewed focus on the One who can redeem them from their plight, He makes a promise.
“I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”
Remember, this is a people under great duress, no longer the prosperous nation they once were. They were defeated as a nation and broken as a people. There is hope! He will strengthen, that is, to be strong, alert, courageous, brave, stout, and bold, which God uses to describe what He is promising. He will help; that is, support them. He will uphold them; that is, lay hold of, to hold up. Isaiah 35:4, “Say to those who are fearful-hearted, ‘Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with a vengeance, with the recompense of God; He will come and save you.'” He was the God they once knew, who freed them from Egyptian bondage, and brought them safely to the promised land. He, their mighty and awesome God will once again redeem His people. One person writes this about what God wants His people to know anew: His “hand was faithful, that it might be relied on, and would secure them.”
These same promises are ours today. In the face of a rapidly changing world, so many around us are trampling on once long-held beliefs about God. Maybe our lives may reflect more of an image of someone who has lost sight of God. It happens…right? As God, the great Redeemer, invited them, so He invites us, don’t be afraid or dismayed! I am your God! Look towards Me, and I promise to strengthen, help, and support you. This aid was His promise then and it is ours now. Help us, Lord, to trust in You, the only true great, and awesome God. Amen.