Fear not [there is nothing to fear], for I am with you; do not look around you in terror and be dismayed, for I AM your God. I will strengthen and harden you to difficulties, yes, I will help you; yes, I will hold you up and retain you with My [victorious] right hand of rightness and justice. (Isaiah 41:10, AMPC)
“Fear not, there is nothing to fear, for I am with you; do not look around you in terror and be dismayed, for. . . for. . . “
What was the next phrase? I finished the standing stretches and still could not remember. I walked by two young women doing sit-ups together and a man doing chin-ups.
“Father, please help me memorize. It is getting easier the more we do it but it still takes so many repetitions!”
“Do not look around you in terror and be dismayed, for. . . “ I took one mat of the ten or so suspended by two hooks to the wall, walked back to the stretching area, stretched out and leaned over to grab my toes, the smell of the rubber mat strong and slightly unpleasant.
“Do You make doing many repetitions necessary so that the Word gets imprinted on my heart? Is many repetitions part of what You mean when You tell us to meditate constantly, like Joshua 1:8 and Psalm 1? You know, Lord, if I could memorize faster I would go to the next verse rather than deeply ponder each phrase, wouldn’t I? As always, Lord, You know what is best.
Thank You for the desperation of depression that created this habit. You know that when I began I was not trying to memorize or meditate. At first, I was just repeating a verse over and over because the only thing that stopped fear and negative feelings were verses You had unveiled for me. Like this one, Lord. Please help me get it imprinted so I have a longer chain of verses to use when I can’t get to a Bible.”
As I turned sideways and reached behind me to stretch the lower back, the elusive phrase bubbled up. “For I am your God! That’s it! Thank You, Father!” This was the eighth verse I had decided to include in my personal arsenal of Scriptures. Since I had learned the value of diligent Bible study and meditating-with-the-intent to memorize, I had studied many passages about peace and security. As I meditated on each one, God always gave deeper understanding but some verses and passages in particular stirred my soul to such depths that I can still see and feel where I was when God unveiled that part of Truth.
On the morning I am writing about, as I did twenty minutes of stretches and kept meditating, Holy Spirit guided the pondering, and I thought . . . the One who was with me was the One who made and sustains the entire universe, that this One was the One I was living my live for, pouring out my life for as a sacrifice. Just as idol worshippers in ancient times trusted in their so-called gods to take care of them, I trusted in my God to take care of me but I had the God of all creation, God Himself, God Almighty, the great I AM, this God Who said to Moses:
“I AM WHO I AM and WHAT I AM and I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE . . . You shall say this to the Israelites” I AM has sent me to you!” (Exodus 3:14, AMPC).
The understanding that day in the gym, so distinct I could almost touch it, continues today whenever I meditate on this and other blessed truths He has unveiled.
Outline of Part One:
- The (blessedly) slippery slope of diligent Bible study and diligent meditation
- Finding the big ideas in a passage of Scripture
- Historical context of Isaiah
- Overview of Isaiah
- Captivity then exile – a frequent topic in the Bible.
- Threads of thought in Isaiah 40 and 41
- Isaiah 40
- Isaiah 41
The (blessedly) slippery slope of diligent Bible study and diligent meditation. When I first meditated on–and thus accidentally memorized— this verse, I was just starting down the blessedly slippery slope of diligent Bible study and diligent meditation. Initially, my effort at diligent Bible study consisted of using a concordance to find specific verses about personal needs. God greatly used those first few verses to start renewing my mind as, in proportion to, I kept those verses in my mind all day long. However, Holy Spirit quickly demonstrated the reward of scanning verses before and after the verse under consideration, carefully looking for connecting words and phrases. This led to scanning the chapters before and after and of pondering the message of the entire book.
Now, when I use my spiritual weapon of Isaiah 41:10, I consider all of Isaiah and specifically Isaiah 40 and 41, I think of the big ideas.
Finding the big ideas in a passage of Scripture. For me, part of learning to study the Word diligently was capturing the context and the big ideas in a passage. I urge you to ask God to show you how to make your own outlines of Bible passages. I do not mean a formal outline necessarily. Just a list of main points can be effective. Summarizing the Word in my own words often reveals thoughts that, though not stated, are the underlying foundation of a passage. And struggling to identify the main ideas makes the mind dig deeper. By “accident” I discovered that printing out verses on sheets of paper presents more text at one glance and makes it easier to circle connecting words, enclose related verses in parentheses, draw arrows, etc. The website www.biblegateway.com makes it easy to print sections of the Word. With printed pages, you can erase mistakes from your first read-through as well make marginal notes. God will lead you in the study method best for you.
Historical context of Isaiah. With that said, let’s consider the context of Isaiah and the main ideas in Isaiah 40 and 41.
The name Isaiah means “Jehovah is salvation” or “Jehovah saves.” Commentaries agree that salvation is the main theme of the book. Isaiah prophesied in Judah, the Southern Kingdom. The Assyrians had already destroyed the Northern Kingdom, Israel. As Halley’s Bible commentary explains, prophets are “the spiritual conscience of the nation. They are appointed to remind kings, priests, and the people of their obligations to God and people.” (p. 363). Isaiah warned kings and the people that God’s wrath would bring condemnation and tribulation. He urged repentance from sin and returning to God.
For Isaiah’s entire life, the Assyrians threatened Judah’s existence. Isaiah witnessed the destruction the Assyrians inflicted on God’s people, including the captivity and exile of the entire Northern Kingdom, the taking by Sennacherib of 200,000 people of Judah, and the near capture of Jerusalem. Isaiah saw his entire nation ruined by the Assyrians. Throughout his life, Isaiah warned of coming judgement for sin but also gave words of comfort as he spoke of the coming Messiah.
Overview of Isaiah. The 1984 NIV published by Zondervan outlines Isaiah as follows:
1-6 Judgement and hope of restoration
7-12 Hope in Assyria or God?
13-23 Prophecies about nations
24-27 Israel’s judgement and deliverance
28-35 Warnings and Zion restored
36-39 King Hezekiah withstands Assyria
40-56 Promises of divine deliverance
57-66 The final kingdom established
“Isaiah repeatedly warned the people that Jerusalem and Judah would be judged because of their wickedness . . . but he also held to the hope that the kingdom would be restored again.
Beginning in Isaiah 40 Isaiah offered comfort with these promises from God: 1) the Babylonian exiles would be allowed to return to Jerusalem; 2) a righteous, suffering servant would bring salvation; 3) God would set up a new, righteous kingdom.” (NIV, 1984, page 593).
Captivity then exile – a frequent topic in the Bible. I believe captivity is a picture of our condition when we allow the enemy to capture our will. Then—if we persist in our sin–exile comes when we are carried away from our position in the land of promise, where we walk in blessings that come from total love and obedience to our Master.
I believe we can apply this concept on every scale of time and to many situations. For example, if I yield to fear the entire morning, but then repent of that and return to active dependence and trust in God, I am restored, my Deliverer comes and I am rescued from that which took me captive and separated me from God. Or, I can persist in the sin of doubt and unbelief for days, weeks, seasons or years and remain captive.
Besides our own actions taking us captive, our life can be in captivity then exile because of the sin of those with whom we are associated, as happened to the prophet Isaiah. This is similar to what we saw in our study of affliction in Lamentations 3. Yet, though the outer circumstances of our life may be in captivity, inwardly (the only thing that matters eternally) we can be victorious and joyful. And we can be victorious and joyful in all circumstances, no matter how difficult, as we cling to the certain knowledge that God is using us right where we are and that He is still in control of our life and will preserve us until deliverance comes.
Threads of thought in Isaiah 40 and 41. Isaiah 40 through 66 are “messages of Divine deliverance” from exile. Specifically, Isaiah 40 concerns preparing the way for the Lord and Isaiah 41 speaks of God’s help for Israel (Isaiah Outline (biblehub.com) Both Isaiah 40 and 41 are essential for understanding Isaiah 41:10.
Remember: God is talking in these chapters to Israelites who have been taken captive, most because of their own sin but righteous Israelites have also suffered the same external consequences because they live in the same nation as the idolators and the wicked, just as believers do in our world today.
We can draw strength as we cherish these truths in our hearts, whether our trials are caused by our own sins and weaknesses or whether they are caused by someone else’s (a family member, employer, close friend) or some other thing (our nation, the economy, or the culture).
Isaiah 40—preparing the way for the Lord. Isaiah 40 is located in a passage (chapters 40 to 56) that addresses God’s promise of Divine deliverance. Here are the central thoughts I see in Isaiah 40.
In Isaiah 40, God says “Comfort My people tenderly, telling them help is coming. Tell them that, although man is ‘as frail as grass’, that My Word stands forever. Tell everyone God will deliver.” God pleads tenderly with His children to understand and trust and not fear. God reminds them that He alone—all by Himself—created heaven and earth and that all the nations are like a drop of water, or “small dust”, to Him, so how can we compare anything to God? God says ‘Can’t you tell that idols are mere things made by man? Haven’t you yet (despite all My teaching) understood that I alone rule heaven and earth and that I remove leaders as easily as wind blows away stubble?”
So, therefore (because of those facts), God says how then can we compare anyone to Him? God says “Just look and see how I keep the world in order. So “why, My people” do you think I am not taking care of you? Can you hear the pleading tone in God’s words when He says, “My people!”?
God says: “Hear this: The everlasting God—Who created the ends of the earth–never wearies and is beyond human understanding. He gives power and strength to those who need it. Even strong young men will fall but those who wait, expect, look for and hope in the LORD will be given new strength so that they can draw close to God and run without tiring.
Isaiah 41—God’s help for Israel. This chapter urges God’s people not to fear because He guides “the destinies of the generations of the nations”. God says to His people “Let’s talk about this point of contention between us about the enemy you fear so much. I, the LORD, raised up Cyrus. The whole world depends on the idols they make but you, My servant Jacob, remember where you came from and Who created you and for what purpose.
God says “You are My chosen servant and I have not cast you off—even though you are exiled. Fear not, for I am with you (Me, not idols). Do not be dismayed (as those who depend on idols are) because I am your God. I will give you strength, harden you to difficulties, and help you. Yes, I will help you. All who come against you will disappear because I will help you and I AM the LORD.
I will make you into a new weapon and you shall destroy your enemies until they are as chaff the wind blows away. I will supply water where there was none for my poor and needy people SO THAT men will see that the Holy One of Israel has done this. Idols made by men can do nothing to show they are gods.
They are nothing and those who worship them are “an abomination [extremely disgusting and shamefully vile in God’s sight]. I have raised up Cyrus, who recognizes that I am giving him his victories. None of the idols predicted this. I, the LORD, announced to Israel that My people the Jews will be restored to their own land through Cyrus. No idol can say one word and their pagan priests and prophets are false, futile and worthless.”
These thunderous declarations are the context of Isaiah 41:10.
God lives in our hope. Fellow pilgrim, fellow captive and exiled one, we all are temporarily not experiencing some of God’s promises because of the sin of our nation and our world. But oh! What richness we have in and through Him—NOW—as we wait on and hope in Him!
God lives in and through (and He is perceptibly present with us because of) our hope, our faith, our trust, our belief in Him. When we have faith and hope in Him, we honor Him. How does a husband feel when his wife shows that she trusts him to take care of her, that she considers him capable, and worthy of her respect? How does he feel when she doubts him? Think about it. Which attitude draws him near? Which attitude deepens his love for her?
Beloved, trust your Maker! Honor Him by walking in faith and keeping your soul in peace as you wait—confidently—for Him!
“Blessed (happy, fortunate, to be envied) are all those who [earnestly] wait for Him, who expect and look and long for Him [for His victory, His favor, His love, His peace, His joy, and His matchless unbroken companionship]! (Isaiah 30:18, AMPC)
Part Two: In Part Two, we will look in detail at Isaiah 41:10. Until then, ponder Isaiah 40 and 41. Summarize what you hear God saying in these chapters. I pray He speaks comfort and fresh hope and deliverance to you about areas in your life where the enemy of our souls has taken you or those around you “captive to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:26, NIV)