16 Thus says the Lord,
who makes a way in the sea,
a path in the mighty waters,
17 who brings forth chariot and horse,
army and warrior;
they lie down, they cannot rise,
they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:
18 “Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
19 Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
20 The wild beasts will honor me,
the jackals and the ostriches,
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
21 the people whom I formed for myself
that they might declare my praise.
I know a fellow who likes to win at golf. If you happen to come up to a hole and there is a water hazard between you and the green, he will “helpfully” lean in and say to you, “Now, Phil, don’t pay attention to all that water there, just hit your ball right over it.” I hate it when he does that. As soon as he mentions the water, I cannot help thinking about it, even though he has instructed me not to. Invariably I hit it in the water, and he laughs.
God is doing something similar to us as we read this passage. “Remember not the former things…” As soon as he says that to us, we cannot help remembering them, especially since he just listed several of them in the verses before he said that. In rhetorical terms, this is called apophasis. You can impress your friends at a party next time by dropping that word. Often this is used negatively. A politician running for office will say, “I don’t want to talk about my opponent’s legal troubles…” But he did just talk about them! But this can also, as our Lord does here, be used to for our blessing. God directs our attention to his new act of salvation, but in order to hear that new thing described, we really need to be thinking about or situated in the old thing that God has done.
God understands us. He uses language skillfully. Jesus was a master storyteller and regularly bested the pharisees in arguments. God uses this little device because he wants you to remember the old things He has done and to look forward with hopeful expectation. The same God who once raised up a mighty people and did awesome deeds in order to save them from Egypt is still at work in you and your life. He may do something very different this next time. There may not be a Red Sea which needs crossing or a pharaonic army at your heels, but He will care for the people he has formed for Himself so you may declare His praise.