Forgetting former things

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”–Isaiah 43:18-19 (NIV)

Yesterday is gone. We can’t live there any more. Maybe yesterday I felt like a real winner and everything clicked. That was great, yesterday. If I am going to be a real winner today, I need to think about today. Maybe yesterday I made a huge mistake. That was terrible yesterday. If I’m going to avoid making another just like it, I need to think about today. That is one obvious application of Isaiah’s message, but there must be much more.

In context, Isaiah had just mentioned the exodus, when God made a path through the sea many generations earlier. That, in fact, is the former thing Isaiah told Israel to forget–a pivotal and definitive time in the nation’s history.

In a way, it was important for them to keep the memory alive. Isaiah preached during a time of national turmoil, when Israel, under the godly but politically weak King Hezekiah, was a vassal of the Assyrian empire and under constant threat of invasion.

The memory of God’s supernatural intervention kept faith alive in a way, but it stirred the hope that he would come back and do the same thing again. God wanted to do something new. The nation, under God’s judgment and wrath, faced a long decline and a succession of mostly Godless kings, ending in destruction and deportation–the desert in Isaiah’s prophecy.

Streams in a desert do not flow constantly. Sometimes  water rushes through them; the rest of the time they appear as parched as the rest of the ground. Godly people clinging to hope of a dry path through the sea as they pass through a desert will not be vigilant enough to notice and take advantage of the streams (grace) God wants to provide for them.

Promises in the Bible nearly always apply more to the community than to individual members. Therefore, today’s application of Isaiah’s promise applies more to the church as a whole than to any individual member. I have no prophetic word at the moment for the whole church, but the application I see for individuals and one former church probably applies in some way.

Whatever God did for me in the past is not the same as what he plans to do today. Whatever he did then was before my latest spiritual growth and before my latest sin. I don’t suppose he wants me literally to forget either yesterday’s victories or yesterday’s sin, but they both have consequences today. God expects to meet me where I am, not where I was. If I become so involved in what yesterday was like that I can’t seek God today, I will miss him.

I was once part of a church that had to dismiss its pastor for adultery and embezzlement. It was not a Methodist church, so it is not as if it could just see whom the bishop would appoint. The congregation had to call a new pastor, but it was still bound up in the hurt caused by the financial mismanagement of a pastor who had been forced out 17 years earlier. They turned down the candidate I thought God had in mind and have suffered two failed pastorates since then. They missed the stream in the desert.

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