What does it mean to “remember not the former things” in Isaiah 43:18?

ANSWER

As God encourages Israel with the hope of the coming Messiah, He exhorts the people, “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old” (Isaiah 43:18, ESV). Something new was going to happen.

The Messianic announcement was made in Isaiah 42:1–4, and God further describes the certainty of His coming reign in Isaiah 42:5–8. That section concludes with God’s statement that the former things have come to pass and now He is declaring to them new things (Isaiah 42:9). The reference is contrasting the oldness of the judgment under the Old Covenant (or the Mosaic Covenant) with the newness of the hope provided by the promise of a coming Messiah who would redeem the people and rule righteously (ultimately fulfilling the Abrahamic, Land, Davidic, and New Covenants).

After recounting the reasons for the current and soon-coming judgments Israel would encounter (Isaiah 42:10–25), God reminds them that He is their God (Isaiah 43:1–3) and that they are precious to Him (Isaiah 43:4–7). Because of this, they can remember not the former things (Isaiah 43:18). While there had to be a judgment and consequences for Israel—they broke the conditional covenant that God had made with the nation—that judgment would not last forever. God announces the coming of a new administration in which Israel’s failures and the resulting judgments would be long past. While there might be those who would continually accuse Israel and proclaim the former things as if they were an ongoing reality (Isaiah 43:8–9), their witness is false. The former things have passed away as God had promised, and new things are coming.

While some might testify against Israel, the people themselves would be witnesses that their Creator and their Messiah would bring new things to pass just as He promised (Isaiah 43:10–13). Even as the people would experience God’s judgment at the hands of Babylon, God would bring judgment to Babylon as well, and Babylon’s might would be extinguished (Isaiah 43:14–17). Because God is sovereign and faithful, Israel could trust Him and take Him at His word. Thus they would have no need to remember the former things or ponder the trouble of the past (Isaiah 43:18); instead, they could look forward with anticipation to what God would do and how God would ultimately deliver and redeem them (Isaiah 43:19–21).

God brought the promised judgment to Judah at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon in 605, 597, and 586 BC, when the people were taken into exile. Less than 50 years later—before Judah’s 70-year judgment and exile was complete, Babylon fell to Medo-Persia. God keeps His word. His people could remember not the former things or ponder what is past (Isaiah 43:18) because He promised redemption and restoration, and these new things would come.

In the same way that Israel was exhorted to trust in God and look toward the fulfillment of His promises, we are encouraged to keep our eyes focused on the Author and Finisher of the faith so that we will be able to run the race He has set before us (Hebrews 12:1–2). God has made commitments, and He always keeps those commitments. Because of that we can read His Word and take it at face value, knowing that what He has said He will bring to pass. Like Israel, we can remember not the former things or consider the things of old. We also have a past riddled with failure and sin (Ephesians 2:1–3), and, as He will do with the nation of Israel, God has intervened to resolve our past and redeem us for a life of newness, hope, purpose, and joy (Ephesians 2:4–10).

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