GOD CONFRONTS – God confronts His people about the consequence of their actions.
MEMORY VERSE: ISAIAH 1: 18 "Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.
The prophet Isaiah was a giant in Jewish history. He was the Shakespeare of Hebrew literature, and the New Testament quotes him more than all the other prophets combined. No other biblical author can match his rich vocabulary and use of imagery.
Isaiah had become aware of the reality and righteousness of God who demanded from men not sacrifices and ceremonial worship. What God desired above everything else was right behavior toward Him and one’s fellows. How we treat other people is a huge priority with God.
Hosea 6: 6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
Jesus said in Matthew 9: 13 But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
Isaiah was from a noble family in the corridors of power. He served as adviser to the kings of Judah and helped set the course of his nation. When Isaiah began his work, the nation seemed strong and wealthy. But Isaiah saw signs of grave danger. People were using their power to harass the poor. Men went around drunk, women cared more about their clothes than about their neighbors’ hunger. People gave lip service to God and kept up the outward appearance of religion but did little more.
Outside dangers loomed even larger. The armies of neighboring Israel were rattling swords and spears at the border. On all sides, monster empires were growing rapidly, especially Egypt and Assyria. Should the nation choose one of the empires as an ally?
The nation of Judah stood at a crossroads. It could either regain its footing or begin a dangerous slide downward. The prophet did not temper his message for the sake of popular opinion. He had harsh and unyielding words about what changes must take place. Although he moved in royal circles, Isaiah was not a “yes-man” in politics. Sometimes he stood alone against a tide of optimism. His very name meant “The Lord Saves,” and he warned kings that relying on military power or wealth or any force other than God would lead to disaster.
Isaiah outlasted four kings, but he finally offended one beyond repair. King Manasseh (notorious for practicing infant sacrifice) found Isaiah’s strong words too much to bear. Tradition records that he had Isaiah killed by fastening him between two planks of wood and sawing his body in half.
CONTEXT (ISAIAH 1:1 – 4:6)
Isaiah launches immediately into a condemnation of God’s people. The reader is blasted with the heat of Isaiah’s angry message against God’s people. He addresses this condemnation in the form of a covenant lawsuit. The people of God had a formal relationship with God that was outlined by the covenant. On one hand, this was like a contract. On the other hand, it was not an impersonal business arrangement. The closest comparison we have in our culture is the marriage covenant. It outlines and formalizes a relationship that already has been established in love. In a covenant lawsuit, Isaiah acted as a prosecuting attorney, representing God in a court case.
Isaiah sought to change the hearts of the people so that the covenant relationship could be restored and the legal case dropped (Isa. 1:16-20). Isaiah promised them hope for the future if they repented. The problem with the people was their complete lack of understanding. They did not know what God wanted and, in fact, did not really know God. He accused them by implying that animals had a better understanding of their relationship with their owners than God’s people did with their understanding of God. The Book of Isaiah swings back and forth between the themes of judgment and the promise of blessing after judgment. He reminded them even if judgment comes, a faithful remnant had hope for the future.
EMPTY RITUALS (ISAIAH 1:10-11)
10 Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah!
11 "The multitude of your sacrifices-- what are they to me?" says the LORD. "I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
Isaiah was trying to get their attention! Listen Up! The rulers of the people are compared to the rulers of Sodom and Gomorrah. Those citizens were interested only in their own pleasure and needs. It was no doubt shocking to Isaiah’s audience to hear they were as bad as these cites that were destroyed by fire and brimstone from heaven. The people of God had become prideful and had rejected God in just about every way possible.
Some of the sacrifices were offered for sin or guilt. Others were meant to express thankfulness, while others were meant to be a type of meal shared in the presence of God. The problem was that the people went through the motions, but had lost sight of the purpose behind the sacrifices. Rather than to share a loving relationship with God, they were using their offering as a means to get what they wanted. They obeyed the rituals, but treated their brothers with contempt.
12 When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts?
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations-- I cannot bear your evil assemblies.
14 Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.
Repetitive sacrificial activity (trampling) without love for God was an empty affair. In God’s eyes, it was meaningless; therefore, the people might as well not offer sacrifices at all. Offering sacrifices while not really loving God is an insult to Him.
The offerings to God were useless because, in and of themselves, they did not accomplish anything. The people of Israel and Judah had come to expect their offering to be an exchange for continued favor from God. Through Isaiah, God made it clear that this is not the way the offering worked.
New Moon festivals were celebrated at the beginning of each month. Judah operated on a lunar calendar instead of a solar one, so the new moon marked the beginning of the month. Numbers 28:11-15 explains what offerings were to be brought in celebration of the new moon. The festival marked God’s lordship over time and was intended to remind the Israelites of His gift of life to them. Yet their celebrations were worthless because the people only did them for the blessings they thought they would get. Convocations were assemblies or meetings.
Likewise, Sabbaths are mentioned. The celebration of the Sabbath was a favorite test case for many of the prophets. This is because observing the Sabbath demonstrated trust in God. The story of God’s provision of manna for the Israelites is found in Exodus 16:22-30. In that episode, the people were not to gather more manna than they needed for each day. Still, some took more and tried to save it, and the manna rotted. On the sixth day, the people took a double portion. And the extra portion of manna for the Sabbath did not rot.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood;
The offering they made had the opposite of the people’s intended effect because their hearts were not turned toward God. Indeed, the people could offer many prayers, but much like the many meaningless offering they had made, God would not accept them.
“Full of blood”, represents violence toward each other and toward the innocent. Shades of Sodom and Gomorrah once again appear as the injustice of the people toward others comes into view. As evident in 1:21-23, the people were acting much like the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Israelites did not expect this to matter to God as long as they made the appropriate sacrifices. Isaiah showed them just how wrong they were.
TRUE FOLLOWERS (ISAIAH 1:16-17)
16 wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong,
17 learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.
Verse 16 gives four commands: wash, cleanse, remove, and stop. For Isaiah’s audience, washing was more than physically bathing. In the context of worship, the word implies a ritual bath done as part of preparation to enter into the Lord’s presence. Similarly, cleansing oneself meant putting away all sources of ritual impurity. Given the context of the passage, washing and cleansing implied not just becoming ritually clean, but an internal cleansing.
They were to replace the evil they were doing with positive behavior. Verse 17 carries the commands of the previous verse forward with a set of positive commands: learn, pursue, correct, defend, and plead. They needed to learn God’s commands in the Torah and carry them out, not just learn them but do them. The pursuit of justice, the rescuing of the oppressed, and the defense of and advocacy for the less fortunate, are all elements pulled directly from the law ( Ex. 22:22-23; Deut. 16:20). These positive behaviors all reflect the character of God and flow from a love for Him.
REPENTANCE REQUIRED (Isaiah 1:18-20)
18 "Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land;
Isaiah let the people know they could avoid the fate that befell Sodom and Gomorrah. They had a chance to repent. The issue here was to warn the people about their lack of who God is and what He desires. Rather than let the Israelites continue in their ignorance of Him, the Lord wanted to communicate with His people. He wanted to have fellowship with them. He wanted more than empty rituals.
The blood of the sin sacrifice would change the crimson red of sin to the white that represents purity. Isaiah implied that the blood on the hands of his listeners could be washed away by God Himself.
We know that animal sacrifices cannot solve the problem of the sinful nature. Isaiah reminded the people that there had to be a change in their hearts if they wished to settle things with God.
God wants to bless people and be close to them. We need to remind ourselves the importance of treating other people as God would.
20 but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword." For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
If the Israelites continued in their disobedience, death would be the ultimate consequence. There was no middle ground for Israel, Judah, or us in terms of our response to God. (Deut. 30:19.) Continued disobedience meant punishment would come by the sword. We can look back and see the destruction of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms of Judah by invading nations. Israel fell to the Assyrians and Judah fell to the Babylonians. In both cases, these foreign nations were the sword in God’s hand as He brought His punishment on His people.
Isaiah ended with the phrase, “the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” It closed the debate.