Isaiah 43:18 says, “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.” This verse comes in the context of God promising to do a new work on behalf of His people Israel. He tells them not to dwell on the past, either their own past failures or God’s past acts of deliverance. Instead, they are to look forward to the “new thing” that God is going to do (Isaiah 43:19).
The historical context
The book of Isaiah contains prophecies to both the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. The first 39 chapters focus primarily on God’s judgment coming upon both kingdoms through the Assyrian and Babylonian invasions. Isaiah prophesied that both kingdoms would be destroyed due to their idolatry and lack of faithfulness to God. These prophecies began to come true with the fall of the northern kingdom to Assyria in 722 BC.
Chapters 40-55 of Isaiah contain prophecies of comfort and redemption for Israel and Judah. Isaiah speaks these words to the people of Judah who would soon see their own kingdom destroyed by Babylon in 586 BC. But even in the midst of this coming judgment, Isaiah focuses the people’s attention on the “new thing” that God would do in restoring them back to the land following their exile (Isaiah 43:14-21).
The immediate context
Isaiah 43:16-17 recalls God’s past acts of deliverance on behalf of Israel when He divided the Red Sea and destroyed the Egyptian army during the exodus. God says to not remember “the former things” – meaning don’t dwell on those past acts of deliverance. Don’t long for the “good old days” when God demonstrated His power on your behalf.
Verses 18-19 then serve as a contrast to verses 16-17. It says to no longer remember or dwell on those past acts of deliverance, “for behold, I am doing a new thing.” This new thing is elaborated on more fully in verses 19-21. God will make a way in the wilderness and cause rivers to flow in the desert for His people. He will give water to the thirsty and ensure His chosen people inherit the promised land. This is the “new thing” – a second exodus and return from exile.
The meaning of “remember not the former things”
In the immediate context, God is telling His people not to dwell on the first exodus from Egypt, but to look forward to the coming second exodus when He would restore them from Babylonian captivity. More broadly, this verse teaches an important principle about not allowing past experiences, blessings, or victories to hinder present obedience and trust in God. As God said in Isaiah 43:19, He is always doing a “new thing.” We must look forward in faith, not backward.
When God says “remember not the former things”, He is directing Israel’s focus away from the past and towards their future hope. They were not to find their security or identity in their history, but instead trust God to do something new on their behalf. In the same way, believers today should not continually dwell on or long for the past. Our identity and hope is found in Christ and the new work He is doing in our lives (2 Corinthians 5:17).
1. Don’t let past mistakes define you
“Remember not the former things” means we should not allow our past sins, failures, and mistakes to determine our future path. Paul expressed this attitude in Philippians 3:13-14: “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” We can’t change the past, but we can move forward in the grace and forgiveness God provides in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
2. Don’t live in past victories
There is a temptation to continually dwell on and reminisce about past spiritual victories and triumphs in our walk with God. But God may be calling us to new acts of faith and obedience. We should thank God for past blessings but also trust Him for new provisions and challenges. As Paul said in Philippians 3:13, we must “strain forward to what lies ahead.”
3. Look forward to God’s plans
“Remember not the former things” is a call to live in light of God’s plans, promises, and provisions for the future rather than simply relying on what He’s done in the past. The Israelites were to look to God’s future restoration from exile rather than reminiscing about the first exodus under Moses. As believers, we are to hope fully in Christ’s return and the promise of eternity with God (Titus 2:11-14).
4. Cultivate an attitude of expectancy
Dwelling on the past can often breed disappointment, bitterness, and negativity about the present. But when we obey the call to not remember the former things, we cultivate an attitude of expectancy and faith that God will do something new. Like the Israelites, we should eagerly await the next chapter of what God has for our lives (Jeremiah 29:11).
Examples of “remembering the former things”
There are several dangers that can occur when we fail to heed God’s call in Isaiah 43:18 and instead “remember the former things”:
1. Longing for the “good old days”
Nostalgia for better former times can cause us to miss what God is doing now. The Israelites were prone to romanticize their time in Egypt or the early years of settlement in Canaan (Numbers 11:4-6). Likewise, believers may long for a previous stage of life or time when God seemed more active and faithful.
2. Pride over past accomplishments
Paul warns against comparing ourselves with others and boasting over our pedigree or past accomplishments (2 Corinthians 10:12-18). We can’t rest on past laurels but must keep pressing forward in our walk with Christ.
3. Repeating old sins and mistakes
When we fail to remember God’s past discipline and chastening, we may fall back into old patterns of sin and disobedience. We must have a forward-looking mindset that learns from the past but doesn’t dwell there (1 Corinthians 10:1-13).
4. Doubting God’s future faithfulness
If our eyes are fixed on the rearview mirror of the past, we may question whether God still actively works on behalf of His people. But Scripture promises that His lovingkindness and compassions are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23).
The importance of remembering select “former things”
While Isaiah 43:18 calls us not to dwell on the past, there are certain “former things” that Scripture commands us to remember:
1. God’s past faithfulness and goodness
Throughout the Old Testament, Israel is repeatedly told to remember the Lord’s works, miracles, signs, and acts of deliverance (Deuteronomy 8:2; Psalm 77:11). Rehearsing God’s past faithfulness stimulates gratitude and trust for the future.
2. God’s laws and commandments
To help them obey God’s laws, Israel was to constantly remember and rehearse them (Deuteronomy 5:15). As believers, we remember God’s commands not as a burden but as a blessing to walk in (Psalm 119:52-53).
3. Examples and warnings from others
We can avoid repeating mistakes by recalling how others have failed in the past. Paul tells the Corinthian church to remember the downfall of the Israelites in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:1-13).
4. Christ’s sacrificial death
Jesus commanded the regular remembrance of His death through the taking of communion (Luke 22:14-20). This remembrance fuels our faith and gratitude for God’s amazing grace.
Isaiah 43:18 provides an important reminder about where our focus should lie as believers. While we can learn from the past, we must not allow it to dominate our thinking and hinder our trust in God’s plans for the future. God is always doing a new thing, and He calls us to join Him with an attitude of forward-looking expectancy, hope, and faithful obedience. By keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, we can follow His lead into all that God has for us (Hebrews 12:1-2).