Isaiah lived most of his life in Jerusalem. During his days, Judah was still a fairly strong nation. Isaiah ministered many years after the glory days of David and Solomon when Israel was at its greatest. During Isaiah’s lifetime, he saw the decline of Judah and the rise of Assyria as the dominant power in that part of the world.
This historical context is important to Isaiah’s message. He speaks of the judgment of Israel as a certainty when it has not yet happened. For example, Isaiah speaks of both the Babylonian captivity and Israel's dispersion among the nations before either of these things happened. Isaiah’s name means “The Lord Says,” and his voice is one of the earliest to clearly spell out the coming judgments on Israel and Judah. He warns of the consequences of their apostasy and tells of the glories of the coming millennial kingdom.
During Isaiah’s times, the nation of Judah looked back on the glory days of King David and King Solomon and recalled the strength and prosperity of those days. For this reason, the politics of the nation were shaped by a desire to regain what they had lost and were continuing to lose. They were trying to recapture the past.
Many of us have experiences that we would like to relive and many of us try to recapture the past. Bruce Springsteen wrote a song about this tendency titled “Glory Days.”
C. S. Lewis wrote about this tendency in his “Letters to Malcolm” saying”
I am beginning to feel that we need a preliminary act of submission not only towards possible future afflictions but also towards possible future blessings. I know it sounds fantastic; but think it over. It seems to me that we often, almost sulkily, reject the good that God offers us because, at that moment, we expected some other good. Do you know what I mean? On every level of our life—in our religious experience, in our gastronomic, erotic, aesthetic, and social experience—we are always harking back to some occasion which seemed to us to reach perfection, setting that up as a norm, and depreciating all other occasions by comparison. But these other occasions, I now suspect, are often full of their own new blessing, if only we would lay ourselves open to it. God shows us a new facet of the glory, and we refuse to look at it because we’re still looking for the old one. And of course we don’t get that. You can’t, at the twentieth reading, get again the experience of reading Lycidas for the first time. But what you do get can be in its own way as good.
God addressed Israel’s looking back with longing on days gone by. He says:
Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. ()
Out of context, the command not to remember the former things seems strange.
God established days of remembrance. The celebration of the Passover is designed for remembrance. There are some things that we should never forget. We celebrate communion regularly because Jesus told us to remember Him.
We must remember God’s faithfulness, but we must realize that His next work will be new. God never changes. He says He never changes. Hebrews 13:8 tells us:
However, although God never changes, He is always doing something new. Every day is a new day. Each sunrise brings a new day. No two snowflakes are ever the same. Even identical twins differ from each other. God could part the Red Sea every day if He wanted, but He already did that and it is not necessary or needed anymore. However, He will do yet greater things, but the delivery of Israel from Egypt by parting the Red Sea was a unique historical event that will not be repeated.
In Isaiah, God is telling Israel not to hold on to the past. He is also saying that the glory to come will be greater than the glory of the past.
As we look forward to the future, whether it’s at the beginning of each new day or whether it’s at the beginning of a new year, we must remember this about God. He is doing something new.
We must be like Paul who says:
Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. ()
Paul describes himself as forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.
When God says, “Remember not the former things,” He means we have to leave the past behind and look forward to what lies ahead. We are never going back there (wherever “there” might be). In addition, God has great plans for the future.
Individually, we can have confidence as we look forward to the future because of what God has done in the past. We know He is faithful. We know He is with us. We know He sustains us. Therefore, we know He will continue. But, we cannot focus on getting back what we feel we have lost or recovering what is past. We must focus on the goal of the upward call of God.
As a church, we must do the same thing. We can be confident that God is doing great things, because of the past. But, we cannot expect the things He will do will be like those of the past.
For each believer in Jesus Christ, there is a moment of rebirth. We were born again. As a result of this rebirth, we are new creatures. 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. ()
Rebirth is a new beginning. And, as I often repeat, we are confident that what God has started He will continue until it is completed. He is working to form Christ in us and He will be successful.
A problem enters in when we do not get the future that we want. We learn quickly in life that we do not know what the future holds, and, even though we know we cannot control the future, we try to control it. We try to impose our will on the future. Jesus knew this tendency and tried to address our worry and fear saying:
Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. ()
Jesus said this in the context of teaching that we are to seek first God’s kingdom and trust God for what the future holds.
This is not to say that we are not to plan and prepare for the future. That would be foolish; but we are not to worry or be anxious because the future is in God’s hands.
In Isaiah, as God speaks of not looking back He says:
Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. ()
I want us to see both the words “Behold” and “now it springs forth.” He questions them and us. “Do you not perceive it?” He expects that we should be able to perceive what He is doing.
This makes me think of Jesus speaking to the woman at the well in John 4. In that account, Jesus was weary from the journey through Samaria so He and His disciples stopped to rest by the well of a Samaritan town. He then sent His disciples into town to get food. The Jews avoided the Samaritans at all costs so it was unusual for them to even be traveling through Samaria, but while the disciples were gone, a woman of the town came out to the well to get water. So, Jesus spoke with her.
When His disciples came back they were wondering what on earth He was doing speaking to a person who was both a Samaritan and a woman, but they did not ask. However, when the woman left and Jesus did not want food, He explained to them that His food was to do the will of the Father. Then He says:
Do you not say, 'There are yet four months, then comes the harvest'? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. ()
I share this story because the disciples could not perceive or understand what Jesus was doing. But it was so simple. He was doing the work of the Father. He was harvesting souls for the kingdom of God.
In your life and in mine, God has told us what He is doing. Romans 8:29 puts it succinctly.
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. ()
According to this, He is conforming us to the image of His Son.
In addition, Jesus set an example of what He wanted us to be doing when He sat and visited with the Samaritan woman. He made it clear what we are to be doing when He told us to go and make disciples.
He wants us to be part of the harvest. He wants us to press on toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
This year God will be doing new things. Some of the changes will be difficult. Some of the changes will be really exciting. But, everything will be new. By the Fall, our youth group will be new as some will graduate and others join in. By the Fall, our children’s ministry will be new as each child will move ahead a year in school. Each Sunday our worship experience will be new as different songs, singers, musicians and messages are presented.
In our personal lives and in our church, we can live with the anticipation that God is doing a new thing and it will be even better than the past.