Often times, people tend to look at a Scriptural text without having any interest in the context of the passage. Instead, the passage is used to reflect one’s own view or to teach something that is not the intended meaning for the text. I call these specific texts that are associated with improper exegesis “misread texts”, for most of the time they are indeed misread. This will be a recurring series on the blog as there are far too many verses to deal with in one post.
Isaiah 41:10, like most of the other verses I’ve covered on Misread Text, is undoubtedly one of the most popular verses found on social media pages, children’s programs, and coffee mugs found in your local Christian book store (except for Family Christian Store of course since it shut down…too soon?). I still remember the first time I encountered this verse. I was a child, and I was watching the very first episode of the popular children’s Bible-based program called Veggietales. The episode was about a child who was struggling with fear, and a sub-story of Daniel conquering his fear of lions. At the end of the silly, yet entertaining episode of Veggietales entitled Where’s God When I’m S-S-Scared?, the main characters finished it with a portion of Isaiah 41:10.
Admittedly, I can see why many people would rush to a verse such as Isaiah 41:10 to comfort themselves. It comes of that way when taken by itself. All Scriptures, when taken out of context, can be twisted into a message that the world will like. After all, who would hate Isaiah 41:10 (ESV) by itself when it reads this, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Christian or not, I’d put this verse on my Twitter and Instagram feed. I’d probably even wear a t-shirt with this verse on it while running or going to the gym. That is.. if I didn’t know the context.
I understand that we hate fear. We hate the idea of danger. History proves that humanity is constantly in some kind of fear for the sake of survival. All fears point back to the need for God, despite the fact that psychologists desire to attribute all of our fears to things on this earth. Some recognize that, so when these people are given a false hope and assurance that God is on their side, they don’t typically respond with repentance. Instead, they subscribe to a shallow faith; this was referred to by David Wilkerson (though I don’t agree with most of what he taught) as an “accommodating Christianity”.
A constant danger for Christians is the ignorance of the truth of a whole text. Sure, the title verse is comforting when taken on it’s own, there is no question about that, but what about the surrounding verses? What are their implications? Well, it is actually quite simple. Contrary to the out-of-context usage of this passage, Isaiah 41:10, in the broader context, is part of a warning to all people about the judgement of God. To understand this, we must take notice of the surrounding verses.
Beginning from Isaiah 41:1 (ESV), God’s Word says, “Listen to Me in silence, O coastlands; let the peoples renew their strength; let them approach, then let them speak; let us together draw near for judgment.” From the very beginning, the prophet Isaiah demands the attention of all people around the world. All tribes are called to judgment to the Almighty God. What for? Well verses 2-7 describe that God is holy, sovereign, and the ruler of all. God tells the people of the world that any good they had was because of His undeserving mercy. The text describes people who are nervous, and afraid. Why? Because the earlier chapters discussed the sins of the unbelieving and the lack of understanding they had concerning who God was.
However, where the title verse comes in is when God speaks to His chosen people, Israel. This is what He says in Isaiah 41:8-10 (ESV), “But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, My friend; …saying to you, ‘You are My servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off‘; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Here God speaks to an exclusive people, distinct from the rest of the world, who are exempt from the dread that the rest of the world feels. God tells them not to fear the judgement, nor to be caught up in dismay; God says this because He holds them in His righteous hand.
This verse, already, has nothing to do with world fears such as not getting that job promotion, not being able to afford that vacation, or worrying about whether your children will be safe or not. This fear concerns the soul. The world felt the sense that God was about to judge for all the wrong they’ve committed and the unrepentant state of their hearts. Yet, how does God address His elect? He tells them they are safe, secure, and free in the hands of Him who has no limits in grace and love. God reminds Israel, and potentially to the Church, that God has a plan for them, and He would not let them be judged wrongly. Rather, they would escape the wrath of God, and be carried to the bosom of sanctuary. Be that as it may, what of the rest of the world? What of those who didn’t believe?
The text continues in Isaiah 41:9 (ESV), “Behold, all who are incensed against you shall be put to shame and confounded; those who strive against you shall be as nothing and shall perish.” All who oppose the statutes of God, and ultimately His people, will stand in judgement. They will have nothing to stand on, for there will be no foundation. They will have nothing to hide behind, for their deeds will be exposed before God, as Adam and Eve were exposed in their nakedness when they sinned. They will have no chance of redemption, as God has already determined their fate. This passage is a warning of judgement. To the believing, judgement is a good news. To the unbelieving, it is horrific and deadly.
I pray that people return to the book of Isaiah soon and examine the bigger story within the book, as it deals with sin, redemption, and ultimately judgement. There is a very fascinating message throughout all Scripture concerning the glory of God, and especially His Son, Jesus Christ. Still, there is also a profound message of urgency that all men should repent before God, and accept Him as Savior and Lord. Isaiah 40 doesn’t deal with fleshly concern over our silly diets, ambitions, or gym goals, but that we must have a right standing relationship with God. All men and women have a relationship with God; the question is if that relationship is a good one.
May Isaiah 41:10 be a reminder for Christians that we have nothing to fear on the Day of judgement, for we have been freed from the bondage of sin. We have become slaves to righteousness and good living. In that, we must be desperate to retrieve others, God-willing, from the judgement they are to endure if they don’t believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. This message is of grave importance for all times, and especially for a time such as this that we live in. Proclaim that there is no fear in Christ, for we are free from judgement. We are strengthened, for the burden of sin has been cut off from us. We are confident, for we are citizens of Heaven. May we bring many more with us, in order that they may escape the wrath of God and enter the throne of God.
Soli Deo Gloria.