Isaiah Study: Replacing Fear With Joy

As we continue our now two-month study of Isaiah 40-66, I want to connect two of the themes I noted in my very first post at the start of this study. That list of themes included (among other things) “Reminders to ‘fear not!'” and “Joy in our relationships with God.” We already talked about joy in connection to the Sabbath covenant, but there’s a lot more joy here as well. These last 27 chapters of Isaiah record an extended dialog where God shares His feelings, desires, and plans for the future. A large part of those plans and desires have to do with working out wonderful things for His people. We have nothing to fear, and great cause for joy, when we’re in a relationship with God.

Fearless Joy for the Future

Isaiah wrote during a time of upheaval in his country. Israel fell to invading Assyrian armies and, while God delivered Judah for a time in response to righteous King Hezekiah’s prayer, Isaiah warned Jerusalem’s fall would come as well. We can understand why the people already in exile and those who knew captivity was coming might feel abandoned by God. At the same time, we can also see God’s perspective on that crisis–His rebuke for those who abandoned Him, His disgust for idolatry, His reminders of His power and justice, and His desire to dwell with and bless a people who follow Him faithfully. As part of His commitment to justice and salvation, He promises a New Covenant and a new type of relationship; one where He and His people won’t drift apart.

It’s really amazing. After all of the grief we put God through when we sin (Gen 6:5-6); after all the heartbreak of watching the people who covenanted with Him as His bride run off after other gods (Jer. 3:20; 5:7; Is. 54:4-8), He still loves us and wants a relationship with us. He wants that relationship so much Jesus died to replace the Old Covenant marriage with a better covenant and better promises (Rom. 7:1-6; Heb. 8:6-10).

The Lord Yahweh’s Spirit is on me,
    because Yahweh has anointed me to preach good news to the humble. …
    to comfort all who mourn,
to provide for those who mourn in Zion,
    to give to them a garland for ashes,
    the oil of joy for mourning,
    the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness …

Everlasting joy will be to them.
“For I, Yahweh, love justice.
    I hate robbery and iniquity.
I will give them their reward in truth
    and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.”

Isaiah 61:1, 3,8, WEB

This section of Isaiah has a very hopeful, Messianic message. There are so many prophecies in here looking forward to Jesus’s first coming as well as His second coming. There’s a new covenant, a new marriage relationship, and a new earth that (from our perspective today) have already started happening and will reach fulfillment soon. By “soon” I mean in the same sense that the apostle John did when he said “these are the end times.” We don’t know exactly when Jesus will be back, but His coming is now “nearer to us than when we first believed” and we ought to be making ourselves ready. The promise of His coming should feel real to us, and we should react with fearlessness and joy, just as God’s people are told to do in Isaiah.

Image of a smiling woman worshiping overlaid with text from Isaiah 61:10, WEB: "I will greatly rejoice in Yahweh! My soul will be joyful in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation.   He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”
Image by Pearl from Lightstock

No Fear of Anyone Who’s Not God

Isaiah chapters 40-66 open with messages of comfort and punishment, a call to prepare the way for the Lord (a prophetic passage pointing to John the Baptist declaring the Messiah), and reminders of God’s sovereignty. He’s incomparable, irreplaceable, and all powerful. Knowing this about God should make us treat Him with the sort of respect, awe, and reverence that’s often called “fearing the Lord.” Knowing that this powerful One calls us His people and promises to help us also gives us joy and confidence. When we fear God, we don’t need to fear anything or anyone else.

“‘You are my servant, I have chosen you and have not cast you away.’
Don’t you be afraid, for I am with you.
    Don’t be dismayed, for I am your God.
    I will strengthen you.
    Yes, I will help you.
    Yes, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness. …
For I, Yahweh your God, will hold your right hand,
    saying to you, ‘Don’t be afraid.
    I will help you.’
Don’t be afraid, you worm Jacob,
    and you men of Israel.
    I will help you,” says Yahweh.
    “Your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel”

Isaiah 41:9-10, 13-14, WEB

Similar wording shows up again and again in this section of Isaiah. The words, “Don’t be afraid, for I have redeemed you. … Don’t be afraid, for I am with you,” also come with a reminder that Yahweh created us and He is our God (Is. 43:1, 5, WEB). Similarly, God reminds us that He is the only true God and Creator while saying, “Don’t fear, neither be afraid” to the people who say, “I am Yahweh’s … and honor the name of Israel” (Is. 44:8, 5, WEB). Again, God says, “Don’t be afraid, for you will not be ashamed. Don’t be confounded, for you will not be disappointed” as He promises, “my loving kindness will not depart from you, and my covenant of peace will not be removed” (Is. 54:4, 10 WEB).

God doesn’t ask us to pretend the bad things never happened, just like He didn’t pretend Israel wasn’t going through terrible times. Instead, He says in Isaiah 51, “Yahweh has comforted Zion … and I will establish my justice for a light to the peoples.” He promises, “my salvation will be forever, and my righteousness will not be abolished” (Is. 51:3, 4, 6, WEB). He also asks why we would fear any oppressor when the God of the universe is on our side? He could stretch out the heavens and break the seas; why wouldn’t He be able to deliver? Why would we doubt His promise that “Those ransomed by Yahweh will return, and come with singing to Zion. Everlasting joy shall be on their heads. They will obtain gladness and joy. Sorrow and sighing shall flee away”? (Is. 51:11, WEB).

Image of a smiling woman worshiping overlaid with text from Isaiah 49:13, WEB: “Sing, heavens, and be joyful, earth! Break out into singing, mountains,
for Yahweh has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his afflicted.”
Image by Ruby-Rose from Lightstock

The Joy of Salvation

As we look more closely at the declarations of joy in this part of Isaiah, we see that it’s connected with God’s power and deliverance over and over again. We “shout joyfully” to “give the Lord the honor he deserves” (Is. 42:11-12, WEB). Messengers are told to shout with joy as they proclaim that God is on His way with deliverance and salvation (Is. 48:20-21; 52:7-9). God assures His people that there’s no way He’ll get them to the point of deliverance and then fail to follow-through. Rather, His “servants will rejoice” and “sing for joy of heart” (Is. 65:13-19; 66:9-11).

Image of a man sitting on a beach next to a Bible with the blog's title text and the words "We have nothing to fear, and great cause for joy, when we're in a relationship with God."
Image by Aaron Kitzo from Pixabay

For as the rain comes down and the snow from the sky,
    and doesn’t return there, but waters the earth,
    and makes it grow and bud,
    and gives seed to the sower and bread to the eater;
so is my word that goes out of my mouth:
    it will not return to me void,
    but it will accomplish that which I please,
    and it will prosper in the thing I sent it to do.
For you shall go out with joy,
    and be led out with peace.
The mountains and the hills will break out before you into singing;
    and all the trees of the fields will clap their hands.

Isaiah 55:10-12, WEB

Joy and salvation are connected several times in the Old Testament’s more poetic writings. David wrote, “My soul shall be joyful in Yahweh. It shall rejoice in his salvation” (Ps. 35:9, WEB). After David sinned, his repentant prayer included the request, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation” (Ps. 51:12, WEB). Earlier in Isaiah, he writes about joyfully drawing water “out of the wells of salvation” (Is. 12:3, WEB). Similarly, Habakkuk declares, “I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!” (Hab. 3:18, WEB). This link between joy and salvation is essential for understanding God’s commands to rejoice. Even if there are things in our lives that might make joy seem impossible, they can never negate the deep, lasting joy that comes from knowing God saves us.

The promise of joy and salvation includes everyone who responds to God’s invitation to join His family. In Isaiah, God speaks to “the foreigners who join themselves to Yahweh” and “everyone who keeps the Sabbath from profaning it, and holds fast my covenant.” The promise isn’t exclusive; God welcomes everyone who wants “to serve him, and to love Yahweh’s name, to be his servants.” For these people, God promises, “I will bring these to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Is. 56:6-8, WEB). That’s an amazing promise, and it’s one that we get to be part of today.

Featured image by Inbetween from Lightstock

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