This is one of the oracles of salvation typical of the prophecy of Second Isaiah (see Introductory Issues). All of the institutions of Israel had been lost in the Babylonian conquest, but these texts announce that God's personal and intimate connection to the people is not broken. The temple, the land, and the king might be gone--overwhelming losses--but Israel need not fear, for God is with them.
The oracles of salvation respond to Israel's laments, which had mourned the broken relation with God, self, and neighbor (now enemy). Now all of those are restored. God is with them; the people are strengthened; and all their enemies "shall be as nothing." Being deserted by "friends and companions" gives rise to lament (Psalm 38:11), but now God is "friend" (Isaiah 41:8), so all can be well.
"I will help you," says God--using the same term applied to the companion given the human creature in the garden of Eden, because it was "not good" that humans should be alone (Genesis 2:18). Humans were meant to be "helpers" of one another, but when there is "no one to help" (Psalm 22:11; 107:12; Lamentations 1:7), God steps in with the promise to be Israel's helper, to be the "significant other" that the human companion was meant to be; this is another example of the remarkable intimacy of God's language in Second Isaiah.
8 But you, Israel, my servant,
Jacob, whom I have chosen,
the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
9 you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, You are my servant,
I have chosen you and not cast you off ;
10 do not fear, for I am with you,
do not be afraid, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.
11 Yes, all who are incensed against you
shall be ashamed and disgraced;
those who strive against you
shall be as nothing and shall perish.
12 You shall seek those who contend with you,
but you shall not find them;
those who war against you
shall be as nothing at all.
13 For I, the Lord your God,
hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, Do not fear,
I will help you.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
10 February 2011