Isaiah 41:13 – “ Fear not, I am the one who helps you.”
The Book of Isaiah is filled with admonitions to fear not, to not be faint, to be strong.
Isaiah began his ministry during a time when Assyria was expanding its territories and empire. Political intrigue and alliances were the mode of the day for most nations, and the kings and leaders of smaller nations would often bind together with each other for support against bigger nations. Israel was no exception to these alliances and King Ahaz was famous for forming alliances. Isaiah tells him: “Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of [your enemies] ” (Isaiah 7:4). Ahaz is then told, “If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all” (Isaiah 7:9), and is then told to put Yahweh to the test – to ask Yahweh for a sign. Ahaz, however, refuses, failing to play his trust in Yahweh (Isaiah 7:10-12).
Thus begins Isaiah’s injunctions for Ahaz, Israel, and Judah to trust Yahweh and fear not, to make Yahweh their sanctuary. That these injunctions apply to both the kings and the general population as a whole is confirmed in Isaiah 8:6-8.
Taking Yahweh for a Sanctuary in Biblical Times
Isaiah 8:13-14 – “Consecrate Adonai Tzva’ot! Let him be the object of your fear and awe! He is there to be a sanctuary.”
The end result of this failure of Ahaz and the people to take Yahweh as a sanctuary is the invasion of the Assyrian army, the “mighty flood waters of the River” (Isaiah 8:7). Once again, Israel is enjoined to take Yahweh for a sanctuary (Isaiah 8:13-14).
Chapters 11 and 12 make some incredible promises for those who do accept Yahweh for their sanctuary – “there will be no hurt or destruction on all his holy mountain” (Isaiah 11:9), and the people “will trust and not be afraid” (Isaiah 12:6). Yahweh will be their strength and might, their salvation, their sanctuary.
Chapters 28 to 31 give us several pictures of faith in action and Yahweh being that quiet, restful sanctuary. In speaking of the prophets and priests, Isaiah says they’re drunk and stumbling (Isaiah 28:7), and prideful (Isaiah 28:15). The leaders and the people are once again enjoined to have faith in Yahweh: “One who trusts will not panic” (Isaiah 28:16). “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your rest” (Isaiah 30:15). But again, the people refused to take Yahweh for a sanctuary (Isaiah 30:16). They placed their trust in the protection of Pharaoh of Egypt, not in Yahweh. Just as Israel faithfully trusts the farmer’s ways, so they are to trust Yahweh, no matter how “strange is his deed!. . . alien is his work” (Isaiah 28:21), for “Yahweh will give rain for the seed with which you sow the ground, and grain, the produce of the ground, which will be rich and plenteous” (Isaiah 30:23).
In chapters 36 to 39 we find that Ahaz is not the only King to hear Isaiah’s message to take Yahweh for a sanctuary. So does Hezekiah. Isaiah counsels: “Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard; Yahweh himself will put a spirit in Sennacherib so that he shall hear a rumor, and return to his own land.” (Isaiah 37:6-7). Hezekiah, despite his worries and fears, listened. Hezekiah had faith that Yahweh would send the Assyrians back home, and home they went. In addition, Yahweh promised that the King of Assyria would not capture the city of Jerusalem; “By the way that he came, by the same he shall return; he shall not come into this city, says Yahweh” (Isaiah 37:34).
Taking Yahweh for a Sanctuary in Modernity
To the Israelites, the Kings, the prophets, the priests, and the people, Isaiah’s message was stark and immediate – take Yahweh for a sanctuary. For modern man, his message is just as stark and immediate. We, too, are to take Yahweh for a sanctuary. Through the lens of the cross, modern man has the advantage of linking Isaiah’s references to the Rock (Isaiah 2:10, 8:14, 30:29), the stumbling stone (Isaiah 8:14), and the stump, shoot, or root of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1, 11:10) to Yeshua Ha’Mashiach, our Lord and Savior, and his death and sacrifice upon the cross. And, as our sign of Yahweh’s faithfulness, we have received not only the child of the virgin and the rains and harvests in their seasons, but we have also received the Ruach Ha’Kodesh [Holy Spirit]!
This gives us a much clearer picture of the merciful Yahweh of grace. “Such confidence and personal knowledge of divine grace makes its possessor joyful, bold, and full of warm affection toward Yahweh and all created things ‑‑ all of which the Holy Spirit works in faith. Hence, such a man becomes without constraint willing and eager to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer all manner of ills, in order to please and glorify Yahweh, who has shown toward him such grace,” says Martin Luther. Even more so than the Israelite of Isaiah’s time, we are to know our master, Yeshua Ha’Mashiach.
Because we know Yeshua we are to have no idols (money, sex, fancy homes, $20,000 automobiles); learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, and plead for the widow; be willing, obedient, and humble (not always “doing it my way”); not rely on mortal man (who says any military force will save the day?); rely on Yahweh for food and water; ahd make no alliances (UN, NATO, EU, etc.). We are to acknowledge Yahweh; stay sober; follow the commandments; and partake of the bread and wine only if repentant.
Response to Isaiah’s Injunctions
Isaiah still commands us to be the light upon a hill, Yahweh’s voice that announces to his people their rebellion and their sins (Isaiah 58:1). Isaiah still demands that we listen, and hear Yahweh’s voice; that we pay attention, and hear his speech, (Isaiah 28:23), and then go out and declare it to his people of all nations and tongues, with faith that it will be heard, and obeyed (Isaiah 42:12, 43:10-12, 43:21, 66:19).
It is faith that allows us to take Yahweh for a sanctuary when he says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you” (Isaiah 43:2). It is faith that also allows us to take Yahweh for a sanctuary when He says, “I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand” (Isaiah 41:10), “I will help you” (Isaiah 41:13), “I will hold your hand” (Isaiah 42:6), and “I will not forget you” (Isaiah 49:15). It is faith that allows us to take Yahweh for a sanctuary when He says, “Take heed, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint” (Isaiah 7:4), for “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).
Faith for Isaiah is simply taking Yahweh for a sanctuary, placing one’s faith or trust in Yahweh, and not in one’s self. To describe this faith in Yahweh, Isaiah uses several images – standing “firm in faith” (Isaiah 7:9), choosing “the waters of Shiloah that flow gently” (Isaiah 8:6), and letting him “become a sanctuary” (Isaiah 8:14).
Isaiah also lists many different ways to show one’s faith or trust. A partial survey of Isaiah’s list includes – knowing your master (Isaiah 1:3); having no idols (Isaiah 1:8); learning to do good, seeking justice, rescuing the oppressed, defending the orphan, and pleading for the widow (Isaiah 1:17); being willing, obedient, humble (Isaiah 1:19); not relying on mortal man (Isaiah 2:22); relying on Yahweh for food and water (Isaiah 3:1); acknowledging Yahweh (Isaiah 26:13); staying sober (Isaiah 29:9); following the commandments (Isaiah 29:13); making no alliances (Isaiah 30:1); and sacrificing only if repentant (Isaiah 43:23-4).
Indeed, Yahweh is our Sanctuary.