The Lord turned to God’s people and gave them three exhortations, three promises, and three reasons to believe.

The physical promises of land and prosperity were to a specific people, the descendants of Abraham, Israel. From this perspective, God is keeping these promises to this day as miraculously, Israel is once again a nation located on the very land God promised to Abraham.

But the apostle Paul said that spiritually, these promises are intended for all those who know Abraham as their spiritual father, who have been grafted into the nation of Israel as God’s people through faith.

Abram Leaves Haran | By Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld – Der Literarische Satanist, Public Domain

Three Exhortations

A Call to Courage

do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be afraid, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you; I will help you;
    I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.

Isaiah 41:10 (NRSV)

Variations of the phrase “Do not be afraid” appear at least 365 times in the Bible, as if God is giving a daily exhortation to those who are listening. There is certainly plenty in this world, and in this life, to be afraid of.  Yet, “be anxious for nothing,” Jesus reminds us.

A Call to Assurance

All who are incensed against you
    shall be ashamed and disgraced;
those who strive against you
    shall be as nothing and shall perish.
You shall seek those who contend with you,
    but you shall not find them;
those who war against you
    shall be as nothing at all.

Isaiah 41:11-12 (NRSV)

Enemies are real. For some of us, the enemies we are facing are real giants. But be assured, God promises, in the end, God is ultimately leading God’s own to triumph over all of them. There were many Jewish people who lived out their whole lives in exile. They did not get to see Cyrus the Great conquer Babylon and free the Jewish exiles. For the last two thousand years Christians have been waiting and longing for the Lord Jesus to return to conquer sin and all its effects, to liberate our earth from captivity to corruption and death.

For some of us, we will only see that triumph in heaven. In the meantime, even in this life, you and I who have put our faith in God have the Lord’s assurance that God is working together everything in our lives for the ultimate good of holiness and glory.

A Call to Confidence

For I, the Lord your God,
    hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, “Do not fear,
    I will help you.”

Do not fear, you worm Jacob,
    you maggot Israel!
I will help you, says the Lord;
    your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
I will make of you a threshing sledge,*
    sharp, new, and having teeth;
you shall thresh the mountains and crush them,
    and you shall make the hills like chaff.
You shall winnow them, and the wind shall carry them away,
    and the tempest shall scatter them.

Isaiah 41:13-16 (NRSV, modifications mine)
Threshing Sledge | By John H. Bishop Vincent – Bishop Vincent, John H. (1884), Earthly Footsteps of the Man of Galilee, N.D.Thompson Publishing Co., Public Domain

Though the idol worshiper may appear to have the upper hand now, there will come a day when their idol, the created thing they put their trust in, will let them down. It is inevitable.

In the meantime, even though God’s own might feel small and ineffective (“you worm, you maggot”), with God you and I are powerful to overcome whatever is in front of us, and completely able to do what God has given us to do.

*The threshing sledge could be understood in two ways.

As Overcomers

On the one hand, God would make God’s people so powerful they would completely overcome their enemies.

As Spiritual Harvesters

But in another way, through God’s people, God will gather in a spiritual harvest of saved persons from all the nations and people groups of earth.

Three Promises

A Promise of Joy

Then you shall rejoice in the Lord;
    in the Holy One of Israel you shall glory.

Isaiah 41:16 (NRSV)

This is what Jesus prayed for His disciples and for all believers the night before He was crucified, that they, and you and me today, could share completely in His joy.

“… now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.”

Jesus in prayer, John 17:13 (NRSV, emphasis mine)

A Promise of Refreshment

When the poor and needy seek water,
    and there is none,
    and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the Lord will answer them,
    I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
I will open rivers on the bare heights
    and fountains in the midst of the valleys;
I will make the wilderness a pool of water
    and the dry land springs of water.

Isaiah 41:17-18 (NRSV)

Just as God had taken care of the freed Hebrew captives during their first great Exodus through the desert, so God would take care of them this time, too. Jesus also spoke of Himself as living water. Whoever would drink of Him will never be thirsty again.

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out,

“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ ” 

Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive, for as yet there was no Spirit because Jesus was not yet glorified.

John 7:37-39 (NRSV, emphases mine)

A Promise of Restoration

I will put in the wilderness the cedar,
    the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive;
I will set in the desert the cypress,
    the plane and the pine together,
so that all may see and know,
    all may consider and understand,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
    the Holy One of Israel has created it.

Isaiah 41:19-20 (NRSV)

God was going to transform the lifeless desert into a verdant forest of every kind of fragrant and flowering tree. In the same way this is what happens for those who put their faith in Jesus. What was dead is brought to new life by a divine act of the Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul explained that the saved person is changed to be more and more like the Lord, one day to be glorified in heaven. The apostle John said one day we will see Jesus as He is because we will be like Him.

Jesus Himself said this transformation is no less profound and permanent than the birth of a baby.

Why does God do all this? The Lord gives three explanations:

Three Reasons

God’s Person

I, the Lord, am first
    and will be with the last.

Isaiah 41:4 (NRSV)

It is God’s nature to keep God’s promises.

God’s Purpose

I will help you, says the Lord;
    your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.

Isaiah 41:14 (NRSV)

God is redeeming God’s people.

God’s Praise

so that all may see and know,
    all may consider and understand,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
    the Holy One of Israel has created it.

Isaiah 41:20 (NRSV)

God will do this in a public way for the display of God’s glory—not for God’s sake, but for the sake of all people, that they might know Who God really is. Jesus also prayed for this the night before His crucifixion. The word “glory” and “glorify” appears in His prayer  eight times.

Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

Jesus in prayer, John 17:24 (NRSV, emphasis mine)

God strengthens God’s people during fearful, exhausting, and overwhelming days. Receiving the strength you and I need to live our lives in a world full of dangers and fears is to realize what we have in God’s generosity towards us, God’s beloved.

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