Summary: Remember not the former things...
BEHOLD, I AM DOING A NEW THING!
The first point of application for the prophecies of Isaiah 1-35 is the contemporary Assyrian threat, which is finally resolved in the narrative of Isaiah 36-37. After King Hezekiah’s sickness in Isaiah 38 - and the miraculous turning back of the sun which marked his recovery - Isaiah 39 introduces a sinister note with the arrival of the Babylonian ambassadors, to whom Hezekiah ill-advisedly showed all his treasures. The prophecies of Isaiah 40-66 offer encouragement into the then future situation of the Judean Exile in Babylon - and Isaiah even names Cyrus the Persian (Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:1), who would eventually be instrumental in the return of the captives to their own land.
When the Persians entered Babylon from the north, the once mighty nobles of the Babylonians fled downstream in the ships in which they had previously taken so much pride (Isaiah 43:14). Isaiah reminds us of how the Sovereign LORD had opened the Red Sea, and made a path through the Jordan (Isaiah 43:15-17). Yet the Prophet is only looking back in order to look forward: “remember not” the former things - don’t yearn for what we might call the ‘good old days’ - for the LORD is doing a “new” thing (Isaiah 43:18-19)!
The return of the Jewish exiles from Babylon, whilst echoing the national epic of Israel, would far surpass it. Now the LORD was making a highway in the wilderness, and in place of the 40 years of seemingly aimless wanderings (Numbers 32:13) would be a swift journey under God’s protection (Ezra 8:31). The beasts of the field are pictured as marvelling at the gracious provision of the LORD (Isaiah 43:20)!
Before the exile the children of Jacob had stopped calling upon the LORD. The Israelites had grown weary of Him (Isaiah 43:22). Their worship may have been lavish (Isaiah 43:24), but was often only outward and formal.
In exile the LORD allowed a generation to grow up without the burden of the sacrificial system. He did not weary them with ritual (Isaiah 43:23), but they burdened Him with their sins, and wearied Him with their iniquities (Isaiah 43:24).
Yet, with or without the temple and its worship, the LORD remains the same. He blots out His people’s transgressions for no other reason than the glory of His own name. He no longer remembers our sins (Isaiah 43:25).
For us, living as we do long after the Babylonian Exile - and even longer after Isaiah and Hezekiah, and their contemporaries - this passage still resonates with the salvation of the LORD. This salvation we have discovered in the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God: whose incarnation is foreshadowed in Isaiah 7:14 (cf. Matthew 1:23); whose birth is foreseen in Isaiah 9:6-7; and whose death, burial and resurrection is prophesied in Isaiah’s fourth “Servant Song” (Isaiah 52:13-53:12).
The LORD has done a new thing, a great thing, which causes even past deliverances to pale into insignificance.