“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it” -- Isaiah 43:18-19a
A new year — 2014 is over and we celebrate the coming of 2015 with kisses, confetti and prayers that the new year will either bring better days or at least be able to give 2014 a run for it’s money. Some people welcome the new year with anticipation while others mourn the passing of another year. The coming of a new year is often considered a time to start anew — resolutions are made and hopes are expressed for clean slates.
One thing I love about this scripture text in Isaiah is that just three chapters later, the prophet Isaiah says the complete opposite of what he says in chapter 43: “Remember the former things of old” (Isaiah 46:9a). What a paradox. How can I forget the former things and remember the former things all at the same time? I think you’re getting a little confused Isaiah.
Believers Church Bible Commentator Ivan Friesen reminds us that in the New Testament, the ministry of Jesus puts the new and the old in obvious tension with one another. Jesus compares his ministry to new wine while also, on other occasions, reiterating the importance of the First Testament laws. The new and the old are both present in the life and ministry of Christ. This paradox is not just present in Isaiah.
Isaiah’s earlier command to forget the former things is in reference to the devastation caused by the Babylonian empire. The Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and led the people of God into many years of exile away from the land God had promised them. Isaiah proclaims that this destruction was a result of Israel’s unfaithfulness to the one true God. Yet here, Isaiah calls the people to forget about all of this because God is about to do something new. He then speaks of God reestablishing the people and forgetting all of their sins (v. 25).
In the same vein, in chapter 46, when Isaiah calls the people to remember the former things he is referring to the times in Israel’s history when God was faithful and favored the people of Israel. Isaiah is calling God’s people to have selective memory. The people of God are to forget their sinfulness so that God can do something new - just like God has done in the past. The old and the new live together in perfect harmony.
Isaiah’s words can still speak to us today. Forget those things that hold us back from being able to accept God’s forgiveness. As we celebrate the coming of the new year, consider what you might be holding on to - guilt, fear, sinfulness, etc. - and forget it so that God can do something new in you and through you in the new year.
So Happy New Year. May the God who makes all things new be with you in this new year!