“I am the Lord your God who has clasped you by your right hand. It is I who say to you ‘Fear not! I will help you.’” Isaiah 41:13
In mood and tone, the first 39 chapters of Isaiah perfectly match 2020. They’re full of bad news. The northern kingdom of Israel will fall first to the Babylonians and later the southern kingdom of Judah. Isaiah pronounces judgment against various offenders. There’s even an apocalyptic section in this part of the prophecy. Again, a perfect fit for 2020.
The tone shifts dramatically in chapter 40. Because of the beauty and comfort of this latter section (it opens with “Comfort, comfort my people”), some writers refer to Isaiah as the gospel of the Old Testament. Prophecies about the Messiah pepper these chapters. While Isaiah still remonstrates the people, he also consistently holds out hope. God is extending His hand toward the people.
That is precisely the reigning image in chapter 41. God not only reaches out but “clasps” the right hand (the strong hand) of His troubled people. Then follows the command and the promise: “Fear not. I will help you.”
I’ve sworn off complaining, in print or otherwise, about the troubles of this weird year. I long ago ran out of descriptions. I’d just be rehashing now. To talk about the challenges of 2020 is like driving in circles. You get nowhere and eventually you just overheat your engine. 2020 is tough. It’s been established. We need to hear a good and encouraging word, and that makes this verse a perfect antidote to the difficulty of this year.
Read these words as God’s direct message to you: “I am the Lord your God who has clasped you by your right hand. It is I who say to you ‘Fear not! I will help you.’” Nothing about this year has surprised God, and nothing is beyond His ability to help. God has hold of you. He’s never let go, and He promises to help you.
Last week I wrote about the underlying theological need for Advent. We need a Savior because we need to be saved. We’ve made a mess of things. Each one of us. And we make a mess of the people around us. The old saying is “hurt people hurt people.” True. But it’s also true that hurt people hurt themselves. We’re battered, bruised, and bleeding from the pounding of the world and our own self-inflicted wounds. Sin, in all its forms, is the problem, and it calls for the penitential quality of Advent. We can’t really celebrate the coming of a Savior if we don’t think we have anything we need to be saved from.
One of the great beauties of the Christian faith is the combination of a high moral calling with a rich offer of grace and mercy. God doesn’t make the way back to Him hard. In fact, this is a unique facet of our faith. The emphasis is not on our seeking God, but on the fact that God has sought us. He is the hound of heaven who is constantly on our trail, not to thrash but to rescue.
One of the greatest challenges I regularly find in talking to people about God is the common notion that God will snuff out all the fun in life. I think this idea comes from our natural resistance to anyone suggesting we need to change. We’re nothing if not defiant. So, we confuse autonomy and freedom. God wants to save us from the former so we can full enjoy the latter in Christ.
Once we trust God fully we realize the promise that He’s clasped our hands and tells us not to fear because He will help us. That brings peace, the theme of the second week of Advent.
Peace is the soul-deep certainty that God has forgiven every sin, mends every fault, promises that He will help us today, and one day make all things right. The matter is settled. We really do not need to fear anything. God has made it clear. We can trust Him.
Yet we struggle because fear (anxiety) is noisy. It’s the reason we can’t hear God. Chapter 41 begins with this command from God: “Listen to me in silence.” You have to be quiet to hear God’s whispers. Have you ever noticed that “silent” and “listen” have the same letters?
I challenge you to try something. In the evening, find a quiet place in your home. Turn out most or all of the lights and light a candle. Pray a simple prayer for God to speak to your heart and then recite “I am the Lord your God who has clasped you by your right hand. It is I who say to you ‘Fear not! I will help you.’”
I use this candle and scripture/prayer ritual often. I assure you the quiet stillness, along with the focus a candle brings, will help you hear God’s promise to grasp your hand and help you. God will bring you peace.
Grace and peace,
Dr. Terry Ellis
December 10, 2020