What Does Isaiah 41: 13 Mean?
reading - words
The Book of Isaiah is one to which Christians often turn, for it is full of affirmations that we are in God’s care, but before we turn to look at the verse in detail, let’s consider who wrote Isaiah 41: 13.
Who wrote Isaiah 41: 13?
The prophet Isaiah ben Amoz lived during the 8th Century B.C. We know from his writings that he was married and had children. The Book of Isaiah covers a historical period of around two centuries and scholars are agreed that it must have been the work of several writers, however, scholars also agree that despite multiple authors the book has a unity of tone and message. We should not be surprised by this, for God uses many mouths to tell us his truths. Scholars divide the book into three parts:
Proto-Isaiah, Chapters 1-39. Written by the prophet Isaiah and comprising of warnings of the coming judgment and prophecies of the coming Messiah.
Deutro-Isaiah, Chapters 40-55. Written 150 years later by a number of anonymous authors at a time when the Israelites were in exile in Babylon.
Trito-Isaiah, Chapters 56-66. Written by multiple authors after the Israelites’ return from exile.
So, according to this analysis, Isaiah 41: 13 was written by an anonymous author some 150 years after the prophet Isaiah.
What is the meaning of Isaiah 41:13?
‘For I am the Lord your God
who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you. Do not fear;
I will help you.’ NIV
In this verse, God speaks directly to us. There is no doubt, no uncertainty. ‘I am the Lord your God’. There’s no arguing about this, it’s a fact, whether you choose to believe it or not. As Bob Dylan sang ‘Ya either got faith or ya got unbelief, and there ain’t neutral ground.’
Maybe, as a modern reader, the word ‘Lord’ gives us a problem. It’s used 600 times in the Bible, and it’s used to represent one Aramaic, 3 Greek and 9 different Hebrew words. It’s a word from Old English and it comes down to us via The King James Bible. In the feudal system a Lord was a ruler, the Lord God is therefore a divine ruler. It’s a concept that readers of four hundred years ago would have easily understood, but to us, in our democracies, perhaps it’s one that we’re a little uncomfortable with. What do you think?
God takes hold of our ‘right hand’. Why the right hand? O.K., so most of us are right handed, we talk about someone being our ‘right hand’ but we’ve probably lost most of the sense of weighty symbolism that this phrase would have held for previous generations of Christians. The ‘right hand’ is the hand of strength, of authority, of sovereignty, of blessing and most importantly, in this context, of friendship. God takes our hand, his relationship to us is that close, a divine parent and God says ‘Do not fear; I will help you.’ Simple words, of great comfort, and for those who believe, the terror of the darkness is taken away.
Now let’s take a look at some other Bible versions of Isaiah 41: 13.
Isaiah 41:13 King James Version
‘For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.’
The word order is different from what we’re used to and we no longer say ‘thee’ and ‘thy’ but the language of this four hundred year old Bible, the most widely read version in the world, retains its succinct impact.
Isaiah 41: 13 New American Standard Bible
‘For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand,
Who says to you, ’Do not fear, I will help you.’
The NASB version of Isaiah 41:13 updates the language of the KJ version but retains all the key phrases of the earlier version to create a modern English version which retains the full impact of the verse.
Isaiah 41:13 The Message
Because I your God,
Have a firm grip on you and I’m
not letting go.
I’m telling you, ‘Don’t panic,
I’m right here to help you.’
The Message is all about communicating the word of God directly to the modern reader, recognizing that language changes over time and that it is the meaning behind the words that is important. The big question is: does this accessible colloquial language oversimplify the ideas. This version of Isaiah 41:13 drops the word ‘Lord’, which as I have already discussed, modern readers may find problematic and it drops the phrase ‘right hand’, for which it substitutes ‘firm grip’. I think that the line ‘Have a firm grip on you and I’m not letting go.’ Has shifted the meaning away from the earlier texts in way with which I’m not entirely comfortable. The image suggested is one of a strict parent restraining a naughty child, an image very different from that of a supportive, friendly, comforting God. What do you think?
Finally, as with in other verses, The Message substitutes ‘panic’ for ‘fear’. I may panic that I have lost my car keys, but I am filled with fear at the prospect of my death: the words are not synonyms.
Isaiah 41:13 in context
This Old Testament verse was written at a time when the Israelites were in exile, they were surrounded by enemies and their nation was in great peril. The book of Isaiah is full of reassurance and comfort for a people who are suffering and this verse’s assertion that ‘I will help you’ is a powerful and unequivocal demonstration of God’s love.
Reflections on Isaiah 41:13
It is the simplicity of verse, which is the source of its spiritual comfort. There are three unarguable facts. I am your God. I take you by the hand. I will help you. And they lead the believer to one inescapable conclusion: Do not fear.
Read next: What Does Isaiah 41:10 Mean? "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."The Book of Isaiah is one to which Christians often turn, for it is full of affirmations that we are in God’s care. An important message in the book is Isaiah 41:10. What is its meaning?