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Chapters 1-5 Concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
The first five chapters of the prophecy are introductory to the whole. They are a message ‘concerning Judah and Jerusalem’, and are God’s word to them through Isaiah. They consist of three long sections in which the sinfulness of, and judgment on, Israel/Judah is defined, interwoven with two sections which depict the final glorious future which God purposes. They are presented in a general vein with no particular historical identifications for they are intended to be a general picture of the future. The specifics will appear later on. Their message, given in some detail, is that Israel have sinned against the very order of creation, and specifically against the covenant, and must therefore face severe judgments unless they repent, but that God will finally deliver a remnant who will inherit all His promises, including His promise to bless the world through them (Genesis 12:3), and that He will finally be openly exalted so that all nations will look to Him.
We may analyse them thus:
a God’s verdict on Israel/Judah but offering a glimmer of hope (Isaiah 1:1-31).
b The future exaltation of the mountain of Yahweh’s house (Isaiah 2:1-5).
c The awful situation of His people before Yahweh (Isaiah 2:6-9).
d The Day of Yahweh which is coming (Isaiah 2:10-22).
d The impact of That Day (Isaiah 3:1-15).
c The condition of the womenfolk of Zion will result in His judgment on them (Isaiah 3:16 to Isaiah 4:1).
b Zion’s future glory (Isaiah 4:2-6).
a Woe upon Israel/Judah (Isaiah 5:1-30).
In ‘a’ the emphasis is on the state of the whole nation including both Israel and Judah, and the same applies in the parallel. In ‘b’ the emphasis is on Yahweh’s final triumph, as it is in the parallel, with the former emphasising the exaltation of Yahweh and resulting blessing while the latter emphasises the blessing of His people. In ‘c’ and parallel the emphasis is centred on Judah and Jerusalem and its condition. In ‘d’ the stress is on the coming Day of Yahweh and in the parallel on its impact.
This must now be looked at in detail:
‘The vision of Isaiah, the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem, in the days Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.’
Isaiah’s prophecies date from the year of Uzziah’s death (Isaiah 6:1) in aound 740 BC, through the period when the independence of Judah was lost by Ahaz, who refused to trust Yahweh for deliverance and instead turned to Assyria for help (2 Kings 16:7), to the great success under Hezekiah when Yahweh amazingly delivered Jerusalem from Assyria (36 to 37). But when, in contrast, Hezekiah looked to men for deliverance and not to Yahweh (Isaiah 39:1-6) and allowed Babylon to know the size of his treasures, Isaiah foresaw what this would mean for the future. It was not wise to reveal one’s treasures to a predator of the nature of Babylon.
Isaiah’s prophecies are said to be a vision of the future for Judah and Jerusalem. For he knew that that future would in the end be the consequence of the sinfulness of his people, and their rejection of God’s ways as revealed in His covenant. It would result from the state of the nation which these opening chapters describe. But beyond that he saw hope, for he knew, as God revealed to him, that finally their future lay in the hands of God, and that God would not fail in His promises to Abraham that through his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Isaiah 41:8; Isaiah 51:2; Genesis 12:3 and often), or in His promise of the rise of a great king of the house of David who would rule in God’s name and whose seed would rule an everlasting kingdom (Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:1-10; Isaiah 55:3-4; 2 Samuel 7:13-16; Psalms 2:0; Psalms 89:0), even though later consideration made him reinterpret the idea.
So in chapters 6-11 he depicts the replacement of the earthly Davidic house which had failed to trust Yahweh, with One who will be miraculously born, can be described as the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, and Who will have everlasting dominion, and will fulfil all the promises to David (Isaiah 9:6-7). While in 41-55 he depicts the seed of Abraham as being Yahweh’s Servant, fulfilling the promises made to Abraham, and resulting in One Who will give Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world (53). And in Isaiah 59:20; Isaiah 61:1-2; Isaiah 63:1-6 he reveals Him as the Redeemer Who comes with an offer of redemption to His people
The prophecies are gathered in thematic rather than chronological order. Prophecies made by him at different times are selected and put together to form a theme. This explains why sometimes connections may seem disjointed, and a certain abruptness is found in the narrative. For it was not originally written as one whole. (This refers especially to the first half of Isaiah). Prophecies made at different times and in differing circumstances were thus brought together to present a unified picture.
Thus the purpose of the first chapter is to lay the foundation for the whole book, which it summarises. It firstly brings out God’s view of His people’s moral condition, and why judgment was so necessary, followed by His view of their religious superficiality, and how their whole attitude needed to be changed. It then deals with His requirement for a complete change of heart and mind, declaring why refinement would in the end also be so necessary, and how He would bring about deliverance in the future, while destroying the wicked. It describes how the old harlot Jerusalem will become a new Jerusalem, the city of righteousness, and utterly condemns the turning of Israel/Judah to Canaanite religion. In a slightly different order this is precisely what we find in chapter 66. And the book itself will finally finish with the description of the new heaven and the new earth, the true worship of the redeemed and the final fate of the wicked (Isaiah 66:22-24). It is a declaration of the triumph of God in the face of the intransigence of His people and of the world.
Isaiah Outlines The Message He Is Bringing (Isaiah 1:1-31 ).
This introductory message is also presented in balanced chiastic form.
a He calls on Creation to be aware of God’s judgment on His people (Isaiah 1:2-3).
b The description of Judah and Jerusalem’s present state, they are almost like Sodom and Gomorrah (Isaiah 1:3-9)
c What God has against His people is that their outward religion is not matched by inner response (Isaiah 1:10-15).
c The inner response that God requires is urged on them (Isaiah 1:16-20).
b God’s purpose for the future is to restore the harlot city and make it a city of righteousness (Isaiah 1:21-26).
a Doom and gloom for the unrepentant (Isaiah 1:28-31).
He Calls On Creation To Be Aware of God’s Judgment on His People (Isaiah 1:2-9 ).
The book begins with a chiasmus, a pattern which had been commonly used in the Pentateuch, and which has also been depicted above, whereby statements are made, and then applied one way or another in reverse order.
Opening Indictment (Isaiah 1:2-3 ).
a “Hear, O heavens, give ear, O earth,
b For Yahweh has spoken.
c I have nourished and brought up children,
d And they have rebelled against Me.
d The ox knows his owner,
c And the ass his master’s crib.
b Israel does not know.
a My people do not consider.” ’
Note that in ‘a’ the heavens and earth are to hear but in the parallel His people do not consider. In ‘b’ even though Yahweh has spoken, in the parallel Israel do not come to knowledge. In ‘c’ He has nourished and brought up children and this is compared with the ass eating at his master’s crib. But in ‘d’ their rebellion against Him is seen as in direct contrast with the ox knowing his owner.
The book begins with Yahweh calling loudly on the heavens and the earth to witness His words, spoken in judgment against His people. Let them take note as to why what must be, must be. There are two aspects to the charge. The first is that He had given them dominion over creation along with the rest of mankind. And the second is that Israel had been especially privileged in being chosen by Him as His children. They are His ‘firstborn’ (Exodus 4:22), especially chosen and adopted by Him. Not only had He given them dominion over all creation, but these were the ones whom He had especially brought up and fed. He had loved them and watched over them (Deuteronomy 32:9-14; Exodus 4:22; Hosea 11:1; Hosea 11:3-4). And yet even so they have rebelled against Him.
This, He declared, is unnatural. While the ox is obedient to his owner, and the ass recognises and feeds from his master’s crib, Israel neither knows the One Who feeds her, nor acknowledges His right to control her. She is base and ungrateful, not even willing to attain to the standards of the brute beasts.
Ox and ass rightly acknowledged their owners and masters, the ones whom God had set over them, man. But the ones to whom He not only gave this privilege of being set over creation, but actually especially chose as His son, have in their turn refused to recognise their own Owner and Master, while at the same time accepting from His hand the right to rule the brute creation. Such was their ingratitude and rebellion. No wonder that nature is called on to bear witness and be scandalised.
‘Hear, O heavens, give ear, O earth.’ Heaven and earth are often called on as solemn witnesses (Deuteronomy 4:26; Deuteronomy 30:19; Deuteronomy 31:28; Deuteronomy 32:1; Psalms 50:4; Jeremiah 2:12; Jeremiah 6:19; Micah 6:2), for God is the Creator Who rules over them. But it is particularly apposite in this case. Israel is rebelling against the natural order of creation.
‘Yahweh has spoken.’ He has given His verdict. Sentence is passed. Compare Isaiah 1:20; Isaiah 16:14; Isaiah 22:25; Isaiah 24:3; Isaiah 25:8; Isaiah 37:22; Isaiah 40:5; Isaiah 58:14; 2 Kings 19:21; Jeremiah 13:15; Joel 3:8; Obadiah 1:18. We note that Isaiah has no doubt that he has received the genuine word of Yahweh.
‘THEY (of all people) have rebelled against me.’ The ‘they’ is emphatic, ‘they of all people’. And that is what seems so incredible. These especially chosen ones, to whom He has shown such love, for whom He has done so much, these are the very ones who have rebelled against Him, while in contrast the animal world in its turn goes on, in spite of often unkind and unreasonable treatment, in submission and obedience to men. What a lesson we can learn from our domestic animals.
These people were especially His from among mankind because He had chosen and adopted them, and had thereby raised them above all others. He had showered His mercies on them. He had not only made them in His image, but had delivered them from bondage with His outstretched arm. How great therefore was their ingratitude.
Note the two aspects of their rebellion. They do not recognise and respond to their Owner, and they do not eat at their Master’s crib. They are both disobedient and idolatrous. They are His especially set apart people (Exodus 6:6-7; Exodus 19:5-6), and yet they do not genuinely ‘know’ Him, they have no personal and vital relationship with Him, there is no genuine response in their hearts towards Him. They are cold towards Him. Nor do they ‘consider’ what they are doing, they do not see to the heart of things, they fail to recognise their privilege and responsibility. They are too taken up with other things. There is nothing more prominent in creation than the ingratitude of man towards God. Men receive all at His hand, and then refuse to do what He asks. We must beware that we are not like that too, with our even greater privileges.
‘Israel does not know. My people do not consider.’ We find here that Judah and Jerusalem are included in the term ‘Israel’. God’s wider people who trace their source back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob/Israel are still in mind. And they are neither aware of Him nor consider His ways. (Note that in Isaiah ‘Israel’ can sometimes mean all God’s people, and can sometimes refer to the northern kingdom alone. Like all the prophets he sees both kingdoms as one, and only split because of the sinfulness of the people).
These words sound a clarion call to all. All of us need to review our lives in the light of them and ask how we ourselves are behaving with regard to our relationship with God. Are we any indeed any better than they?
The Majority Are Like Sodom and Gomorrah (Isaiah 1:4-9 ).
Isaiah now describes the condition of Judah, which would include refugees from Israel. This can be analysed as follows:
a Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children who deal corruptly, they have forsaken Yahweh, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they have estranged themselves, backwards (Isaiah 1:4).
b Why will you still be stricken, that you revolt more and more? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, only wounds, and bruises, and festering sores (Isaiah 1:5-6 a).
c They have not been closed, nor bound up, nor mollified with oil (Isaiah 1:6 b).
c Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire, and as for your land, strangers devour it in your presence (Isaiah 1:7 a).
b And it is desolate as overthrown by strangers, and the daughter, Zion, is left, like a booth in the wilderness, like a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, like a besieged city (Isaiah 1:7-8).
a Unless Yahweh of hosts had left to us a very small group of survivors, we would have been as Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah (Isaiah 1:9).
In ‘a’ the sinful state of Judah is described, and in the parallel what the final result has been for them. In ‘b’ they are asked why they allow themselves to be so stricken, and in the parallel their desolation as a result is outlined. In ‘c’ their sores and wounds are seen as unbandaged and untreated, and in the parallel their resulting continual state of devastation is described.
‘Ah, sinful nation,
A people laden with iniquity,
A seed of evildoers,
Children who deal corruptly.
They have forsaken Yahweh,
They have despised the Holy One of Israel,
They have estranged themselves,
In this construction we have four parallel statements followed by another four parallel statements, emphasising both aspects of his words. ‘Sinful, iniquitous, evildoers, corrupt’, followed by ‘have forsaken, have despised, have estranged themselves, (have gone) backwards. It sums up their seemingly hopeless situation.
Indeed these next few verses are all preparing the way for what is to come. In them Isaiah is declaring Yahweh’s verdict on what remains of Israel after the destruction of Samaria, and how, as a result of the vision of the glory and holiness of Yahweh (Isaiah 6:1), the sinfulness of the people has been brought home to him. It is a declaration of how Isaiah now sees them as a result of the experience of that vision.
They are no longer a ‘holy nation’ (Exodus 19:6), no longer His true people, but a ‘sinning nation’ who constantly ‘fall short’ (chata’) of God’s standard as revealed in His Instruction (the Torah, the Law, the first five books of the Bible), they are a people burdened down with (literally ‘heavy with’) their ‘wickedness’, that is, with their corrupted and sinful character and natures. They no longer behave as the seed of Abraham (Psalms 105:6) but rather as the seed of their fathers who were evildoers, and it is as their fathers’ children that they deal ‘corruptly’, as those who are similarly ‘marred and ruined’ (shachath).
This manifests itself in their attitudes, lifestyle and behaviour. ‘They have forsaken Yahweh’, that is as the One Who was their Overlord with sole rights to their obedience. Other gods and other things have been allowed a place in their lives and thoughts, and His ways are being ignored and set aside. His ways are seen as being too demanding.
‘They have despised the Holy One of Israel.’ They had uniquely had the privilege of knowing God as the Holy One, as the One ‘set apart’ and lifted high, as unique and majestic both essentially and morally, revealed at Mount Sinai and through His Torah (the first five books of the Bible). He is the glorious One, ‘set apart’ in their worship as unique by the holiest of angelic beings as being alone worthy of worship (Isaiah 6:1-6). He is the uplifted One, high and lofty, Who inhabits eternity (Isaiah 57:15). And His presence and intense purity is such that when revealed it makes men deeply aware of their own total sinfulness and unworthiness (Isaiah 6:5; Job 42:5-6), with the result that they cringe in His presence.
But although they had been privileged to be chosen as His own people, and had behind them all this background, they had not ‘seen’ Him, indeed they had failed to such an extent that they had shown rather that they despised Him by their attitude both to Him and to His Instruction (Law). They had closed their eyes to Him and did not go in awe of Him. This was their condemnation.
They, in fact, would not have seen it in that way. They probably considered that they observed all necessary ritual requirements. They were probably fairly satisfied that they had given Him His due. Did they not indeed carry out the requirements of the cultus? Should He not be satisfied? But Isaiah’s point is that it is the very way in which they do this that demonstrates how much they despise Him (Isaiah 1:11-12). Their very sacrifices are an insult to Him because they are designed to keep Him satisfied while they themselves ignore what He has commanded. They think that He can be thrust to one side, that once ‘dealt with’ through ritual He can be dismissed, while they proceed to do as they wish. They are totally unaware of the nature of the One with whom they have to do.
‘They have estranged themselves.’ By their actions and attitudes they have withdrawn themselves from Him and have actually chosen in reality to disinherit themselves, to make themselves ‘estranged’ as though they were ‘strangers and aliens’ to Him. By their behaviour they have made themselves no longer an essential part of the covenant relationship with God, and are even satisfied for it to be so. No indictment could be greater than that. All of us must choose. We cannot love God and mammon. Let us make no mistake about it. There is no part in any covenant for those who refuse to obey Him.
‘Backwards.’ The word stands stark and alone (translators sometimes add words such as ‘are gone). They have been on the move, but it has been backwards. Instead of going forward with God, they have gone back to darkness and to idols.
‘Seed of evildoers.’ The idea of the seed is prominent in the book. They prided themselves on being the seed of Abraham and of Jacob (Isaiah 41:8; Isaiah 45:19; Isaiah 45:25; Isaiah 65:23), some would be the seed of the Servant (Isaiah 53:10 compare Isaiah 44:3), but here they are declared rather to be the seed of evildoers, an expression that depicts the most evil of men (compare Isaiah 14:20).
‘Why will you still be stricken,
That you revolt more and more?
The whole head is sick,
And the whole heart faint.
From the sole of the foot even to the head,
There is no soundness in it,
Only wounds, and bruises,
And festering sores.
They have not been closed, nor bound up,
Nor mollified with oil.’
He now points out what this has brought them to. He describes Israel as being like someone dreadfully ill, and asks why in that condition they are so foolish as to carry on rebelling when it can only lead to further distress. Their head throbs, their heart faints, their whole body is covered with wounds, bruises and festering sores completely untreated. No one has closed their wounds or bound them up, or applied healing potions to them. They are sickly and untended. Yet by their behaviour they are deliberately asking to be smitten again. He cannot understand why they do it. Why do they not stop, and consider, and listen to God? These ideas were taken from the Torah. For a similar description compare Deuteronomy 28:58-62. See also Deuteronomy 28:21-22; Deuteronomy 28:35; Leviticus 26:16.
This picture of Judah and Jerusalem as the sick man of the Near East is vivid and descriptive. In their rebellion they are shown as having fared very ill. But they are seen to have brought it on themselves. They have been stricken in order that they might repent. And yet because of their continuing behaviour and refusal to repent they will be further stricken. They are sick indeed. Why do they do it? Why do we do it?
‘Your country is desolate,
Your cities are burned with fire,
And as for your land,
Strangers devour it in your presence,
And it is desolate as overthrown by strangers,
And the daughter, Zion, is left,
Like a booth in the wilderness,
Like a lodge in a garden of cucumbers,
Like a besieged city.’
This now illustrates the illustration. Note again the pattern. First the four parallel descriptions of judgment followed by the fourfold picture of the consequence , with Isaiah 1:9 then following it up. Part of their sickness is due to the fact that they are under invasion, their country desolated, their cities burned, and Jerusalem stands alone with no one to help. The whole of the land is under the conqueror’s cruel boot. And as he will point out later, this is not so much because their kings were incapable, but because they had failed to trust in Yahweh. Had Ahaz not called on the Assyrians for help, and had Hezekiah not revealed their wealth to the Babylonians, they might have been left alone, with the help of Yahweh, as a small nation under His protection which was not worth troubling. But they had been unwilling to trust Him. Thus they had had to enter into their foolish alliances with foreign nations who would only swallow them up.
‘Your cities are burned with fire.’ This was regularly seen in Israel as indicating a particular retribution (Numbers 31:10; Deuteronomy 13:16; Joshua 6:24; Joshua 8:8; Judges 1:8; Judges 18:27; Judges 20:48).
‘Strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate as overthrown by strangers.’ Here the partial duplication is deliberate and for emphasis. There is a double emphasis, both actively and passively, on the fact that they are devoured by strangers, by aliens, by the unknown, something far worse and horrific than being invaded by neighbours.
Furthermore the aliens destroy everything in front of their eyes, and they do it as savagely as only aliens would, so that when they look on what has been done, they see that it has indeed been left totally desolate, in such a way as would only be done by strangers. Neighbours might invade but they would not normally cause so much damage, (especially to trees which take so long to grow, contrast Isaiah 37:24), since they would have more consideration for the future and of the possibility of retaliation and reciprocation. So here they are depicted as first seeing the action of desolation ‘as by strangers’, and then as gazing on the consequences.
‘And the daughter, Zion, is left like a booth in the wilderness, like a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, like a besieged city.’ The reference is to Jerusalem, built around Mount Zion, seen as God’s adopted daughter. It is suggesting that she now stood, solitary, and lonely, and vulnerable, a vulnerable young woman with none to support her, like a shepherd’s solitary lean-to in the wilderness, or a lonely watchman’s hut in a cucumber garden, open to the ravages of evil men. The idea includes both solitariness and helplessness, with Jerusalem seen as standing alone, and as flimsy and not strong enough to stand against her attackers.
‘Like a besieged city.’ That is, cut off from all help and communication, solitary and alone. See also Deuteronomy 28:52-55.
This possibly reflects the situation described in chapters 37-38 when Judah appeared to be on its last legs. If that is so it is clearly here considered as carrying an important, permanent message for Judah and Jerusalem.
‘Unless Yahweh of hosts,
Had left to us a very small group of survivors,
We would have been as Sodom,
We would have been like Gomorrah.’
What they deserved was total destruction, as had happened to Sodom and Gomorrah, but this had not happened because Yahweh of hosts in His mercy had left a few to survive so as to build up the future. Had He not done so there would have been nothing left of Jerusalem. She would have disappeared in the same way as Sodom and Gomorrah had (Genesis 19:28).
‘Yahweh of hosts.’ This is the absolute description of power, a title found regularly throughout Isaiah. He is overlord of all heavenly beings, the hosts of heaven (Genesis 32:2; Psalms 103:21; Psalm 148:20) and especially of the hosts of God (Joshua 5:14), overlord of all that is in the heavens (Psalms 33:6; Deuteronomy 4:19), and overlord of all that is on earth (Genesis 1:2), and of all earthly hosts. He is Lord of All. And thus against ‘Yahweh of hosts’ none can stand. And it was He Who had determined that there would be survivors, which is why there were.
While these pictures could be describing any severe invasion they fit best with the Assyrian invasion in 701 BC (2 Kings 18:13-17). The Assyrians were truly aliens, and savagely destructive, and it was during their invasion, when city after city was devastated, that Jerusalem was left as a last bastion in Judah.
This description of the moral and religious state of Judah and Jerusalem, and its result, is preparatory to the whole book, revealing their sinful state and explaining why God will act as He will in His judgments. But they also give hint of a future hope through the description of the preservation of a few as a result of the mercy of God, an idea which will recur again and again. The word used here is not, however, the usual one for the remnant. They are not here a spiritual remnant, but merely a group of survivors.
We should learn from this that when troubles come upon us we need to consider whether they are the result of God giving us a warning. Alternately of course they may be the result of the attacks of the Enemy. But either way we should learn from them.
What God Has Against His People (Isaiah 1:10-15 ). God’s Hatred of Any Outward Religion Which Is Not Matched By Inner Response.
In these verses Isaiah stresses that there is little benefit in continuing with outward forms of religion unless they also respond to its inner demands.
a Hear the word of Yahweh, you rulers of Sodom. Give ear to the instruction of our God, you people of Gomorrah (Isaiah 1:10).
b “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to me?” Says Yahweh. “I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts” (Isaiah 1:11 a).
c “And I do not delight in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats” (Isaiah 1:11 b).
d “When you come to appear before me, who has required this from you (‘at your hand’), to trample my courts?” (Isaiah 1:12).
e “Do not bring vain oblations any more” (Isaiah 1:13 a).
e “Incense is an abomination to me” (Isaiah 1:13 b).
d “New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies. I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn meeting” (Isaiah 1:13 c)
c “Your new moons and your appointed feasts, my soul hates” (Isaiah 1:14 a).
b “They are a trouble to me, I am weary to bear them. And when you spread forth your hands, I will hide my eyes from you” (Isaiah 1:14-15 a).
a Yes, when you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood.” (Isaiah 1:15 b).
This again from Isaiah 1:10-15 presents us with a chiasmus, with their description as Sodom and Gomorrah paralleling their not hearing and their hands being filled with blood (10 with 15b); their offerings in which He has no delight being paralleled with the feasts that He cannot abide (Isaiah 1:11 with Isaiah 1:14); their trampling of His courts being paralleled by the iniquity and the solemn meeting (Isaiah 1:12 with Isaiah 1:13 c), and the vain oblations being compared with the offering of incense unacceptably (Isaiah 1:13 a with Isaiah 1:13 b).
‘Hear the word of Yahweh, you rulers of Sodom.
Give ear to the instruction of our God, you people of Gomorrah.’
‘Hear the word of Yahweh.’ Both rulers and people are called on to hear what Yahweh has to say. Taking the idea up from Isaiah 1:9 they are spoken of vividly as being like rulers of Sodom and like people of Gomorrah, cities renowned for their wickedness, cities which had already experienced judgment long before and had been totally wiped out (Genesis 19:0). There is an indication here of how God saw Jerusalem and Judah, and an implied threat as a result. If the rulers and the people do not hear, and if they continue to behave in the way that they do, they too will be utterly wiped out. Like all His judgments, this judgment is a morally based judgment. Its purpose is to win them back to the covenant. But if they will not hear, then destruction, similar to that which was inflicted on Sodom and Gomorrah, can only await them.
Other nations saw their gods as fickle and unreliable, acting on a whim or a preference, their behaviour totally unpredictable and thus requiring that they be manipulated or bribed. None of them saw their gods as deeply concerned about the morality of their people. But the prophets revealed that Yahweh, the true God was not like them. His behaviour towards His people was always morally based and consistent, and had only in mind the triumph of goodness and the people’s final good. It stressed that only if they were morally true could God truly accept them as His people. That was to be their destiny, whatever refining fires would be required to make them so. And it also stressed that because He was holy He would have to eradicate sin and wickedness, and that that required, and would always result in, judgment unless they repented and became truly reconciled to Him.
“To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to me?”
“I am full of the burnt offerings of rams,
And the fat of fed beasts,
And I do not delight in the blood of bullocks,
Or of lambs, or of he-goats.
When you come to appear before me,
Who has required this from you (‘at your hand’),
To trample my courts?
Do not bring vain oblations any more,
Incense is an abomination to me,
New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies.
I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn meeting.”
God declared that He now received no pleasure from their sacrifices and offerings. They were meaningless to Him, and unacceptable. He had had enough of them. This is not an indictment of the sacrificial system and feasts of Israel, but of its total present misuse. Samuel had said to Saul in a similar situation, “Has Yahweh as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as obeying the voice of Yahweh? Behold to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22), and Saul’s failure had resulted in his final rejection by God.
Thus God is here stressing that without moral response and behaviour, without love for Him and obedience to His laws, all religious ordinances are in vain. Such do not work automatically. He is the God of the covenant, and within that covenant the offerings and sacrifices are ways of finding mercy and propitiation for sin in both personal and public responses towards God, and the feasts are a means of fellowship with God. But without responsive obedience to the covenant they are worthless. The God of the covenant demands full response to the covenant, and that includes primarily trust in Him and obedience to His requirements for living. Then the remainder too is acceptable and will achieve its purpose. But without that it is all nothing
‘To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to me?” says Yahweh. “I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts, and I do not delight in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats.’ Sacrifices and offerings were still being multiplied in the temple. The priests still went about their daily service. There was more than enough of it all. But their hearts were not in it. There was no loving response, no dedication. It had all become meaningless ritual (compare Ecclesiastes 5:1-7). It had become an automatic ritual, a routine without significance. So God was satiated with their hypocritical offerings. He had had enough of them. He no longer delighted in what they did. Woe betide us when God no longer delights in what we do and what we offer.
Especially poignant is the rejection of the blood. It was the shedding of blood, the life poured out, that made atonement (Leviticus 17:11). It was therefore that on which the people’s hopes would have rested. But it no longer ‘delighted’ God. It was no longer acceptable. It was therefore no longer effective. They achieved no atonement. Without response and obedience in their daily lives all their religious activity was dross. Without repentance there was no forgiveness.
For the similar views of other prophets see Amos 5:21-24; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8; Jeremiah 7:21-23. The prophets did not reject the ordinances of the Mosaic covenant, but they did stress their secondary importance to responsive obedience (trusting and obeying). Without the latter their ordinances were worse than useless. Their purpose was to establish a vibrant and living relationship with God, and a true means of atonement. Without responsive obedience they did neither.
‘When you came to appear before me, who has required this from you (‘at your hand’), to trample my courts?’ Note that God still acknowledges at this point that the temple could be seen as His earthly dwellingplace, for He speaks of ‘My courts’. They have the great privilege of having His earthly dwellingplace among them. But His point is that they treat it lightly without due regard to Him. They forget that they are His courts that they are entering. Instead of being invitees, and treading lightly and discerningly with true regard, they are behaving like trespassers, trampling over everything without discernment. They treat it as their own. Was this really what they thought that God would accept of them?
‘Do not bring vain oblations any more, incense is an abomination to me, new moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies - - . I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn meeting.’ He no longer wants oblations that mean nothing. There is no point in offering incense when it is just a ritual to pander to God, and not a loving, responsive offering from the heart. It has by this become an abomination to Him, as also have the new moon celebrations, and the sabbath, and the calling together of His people at special times, for they are but automatic ritual while their hearts are elsewhere. It is all meaningless and fruitless.
‘I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn meeting.’ The idea of a combination of iniquity and the solemn meeting with God are incompatible, and yet these people partake in both at the same time. It is the essence of hypocrisy. Even while they engage in the solemn required meetings ‘with God’ they carry iniquity in their hearts, and even practise it, as though God did not see (compare 1 Corinthians 11:21-22). But they should recognise that their iniquity separates them from God (Isaiah 59:2). Thus the solemn meetings have become pointless. They are a meaningless act. He cannot even bear to be there, for they make Him sick. It is a sad day when God cannot bear to be at our church gatherings, and when we make Him sick (compare Revelation 3:16).
This phrase cuts into the theme which continues in Isaiah 1:14, and demonstrates how deeply God feels about it all. He is so moved that He has had to break in and point out that while there is iniquity present and undealt with, nothing that they do can please or satisfy Him or enable them to meet with Him, for He cannot bear it. Compare Jeremiah 7:11; Matthew 21:13.
“Your new moons and your appointed feasts,
My soul hates,
They are a trouble to me,
I am weary to bear them.
And when you spread forth your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you.
Yes, when you make many prayers,
I will not hear.
Your hands are full of blood.”
Here the positive aspect of approach to God is dealt with. They celebrate the new moon monthly, they gather at the appointed feasts. Outwardly all seems well. But God hates these feasts and their presence at them. He is troubled and disturbed by them. They distress Him. They weary Him. And He will thus not hear their prayers. He deliberately turns His eyes away. He refuses to hear them. And why? Because their hands are full of blood. They are disobeying His Instruction (His Law) in the covenant and going their own way. Not all actually commit murder, but all participate in what occurs without protest. They are satisfied with conditions as they are, and because they do not protest, they are thus participators in it. They are to blame for what they allow.
The main appointed feasts were those commanded in the Law; Passover and Unleavened Bread (Exodus 23:15; Leviticus 23:5; Exodus 12:0; Numbers 28:16-25; Deuteronomy 16:1-8), the Feast of Weeks (Harvest, Firstfruits - Exodus 23:16; Exodus 34:22; Numbers 28:26) and the Feast of Tabernacles or Ingathering (Exodus 23:16; Exodus 34:22; Leviticus 23:34; Deuteronomy 16:13). They were intended to be joyous feasts during which they rededicated themselves to the covenant and gave thanks for God’s goodness to them as revealed in their harvests of lambs and kids, harvests of grain, fruit and vintage, while at the same time remembering how He had delivered them from bondage, and continually delivered them from sin as they brought their sacrifices of atonement.
But their feasts were no longer a joy to God. ‘My soul hates’. The expression indicates that He hated them with all the intensity of His being because they were an outward act with no inner meaning. They were a sham. During them their hearts were not turned towards Him and to His Instruction, but to their own sin and pleasure.
‘And when you spread forth your hands I will hide my eyes from you. Yes, when you make many prayers, I will not hear.’ God would not, and will not, hear the prayers of those who are not committed towards Him. This applies as much today as it ever did. Instead of His face shining on them, His eyes will be hid from them. He will not hear. He will be deaf to their prayers.
Modern man has a glib view of prayer, assuming that God will listen to anyone. But Isaiah 59:2 explains that God does not hear those whose sins have separated them from Him, Psalms 66:18 tells us that if we regard iniquity in our hearts the Lord will not hear us, and Proverbs 28:9 (compare Proverbs 15:8; Proverbs 15:29; Proverbs 21:13) tells us that the prayers of one who turns away from God’s instruction are an abomination. This is the Biblical view of prayer. The New Testament similarly requires the lifting up of ‘holy’ hands (1 Timothy 2:8), and a true heart (Hebrews 10:22; James 4:3; 1 Peter 3:12). So all warn us that a man’s heart must be right if his prayers are to be heard. It is not that he must be worthy and deserving. None are that. It is that he must be in a right relationship with God (and Jesus adds that he must have a forgiving heart - Matthew 6:15).
‘Your hands are full of blood (literally ‘bloods).’ To have the hands full was to be dedicated to something. Thus these people are dedicated to the way of violence. They approve a leadership that resorts to violence, they benefit from violence, they make no complaint against it, they are ready to go on benefiting by it, and thus they partake in its guilt. This description parallels their description as Sodom and Gomorrah (Isaiah 1:11).
The Response That God Requires (Isaiah 1:16-20 ).
What God requires of them is a complete change of heart and a renewing of their lives.
a “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean, Put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes” (Isaiah 1:16 a).
b “Cease to do evil, learn to do well, Seek justice, restrain the oppressor, Obtain justice for the fatherless, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:16-17)
c “Come now and let us reason together,” Says Yahweh, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they will be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18 a).
c “Though they are red like crimson, they will be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18 b).
b “If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good of the land” (Isaiah 1:19)
a “But if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword. For the mouth of Yahweh has spoken it” (Isaiah 1:20).
Here again we have a chiasmus. The call to put away evil in Isaiah 1:16-17 contrasts with the refusing and rebelling in Isaiah 1:20. Learning to do well parallels being willing and obedient in Isaiah 1:19, and in Isaiah 1:18 we have two parallel descriptions of cleansing.
“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean,
Put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes,
Cease to do evil, learn to do well,
Seek justice, restrain the oppressor,
Obtain justice for the fatherless, plead for the widow.”
This is not urging them to take part in the ritual washings and cleansings of the cult ritual but is a contrast to them. They are not in themselves to be seen as sufficient. The actual carrying out of the literal rituals is not what is being required here. They would be lumped with the sacrifices, incense and feasts as fruitless ritual. It is the moral application that is required. In order to be truly clean the people must become morally clean. Using later terms they must repent and believe, receiving God’s mercy and forgiveness. They must wash themselves by their repentance towards God and cleanse themselves by claiming His mercy. (Washing was always preparatory, cleansing what necessarily followed) This will then result in positive living, by putting away their evil behaviour totally so that God could see it no more, by ceasing to do what was wrong, by learning to do well and seeking for the application of true justice, by restraining (or reproving) the oppressor and acting in defence of orphans and widows.
Note that it is not enough just to behave well personally, that behaviour must overflow into acting against oppressors and reaching the needy in society, showing concern for the poor and helpless. It must be full-orbed righteousness.
This is not just an emphasis on good works, it is a stress on covenant righteousness, on the righteousness that should result from their compact with God. Their response is to be response to the covenant. Morality without religion was unknown in Israel. The point is that they have been concentrating on the ritual ordinances of the covenant (although somewhat perfunctorily) while ignoring its essential moral demands, they have not revealed righteousness in response to the Great Deliverer. Thus they have been missing its essence, God’s gracious deliverance of them and His righteous requirements in the light of it, which were to result in a transformed people. The ten commands and their later exposition lay at the heart of the covenant.
‘Wash -- cleanse.’ This is a process. They are not describing the same thing. Washing with water is never said to cleanse in the Old Testament ritual, it was preparatory to cleansing. It washed off the filth of the flesh (including the body odours) prior to an approach towards God, or to waiting in the presence of God. The only water that ‘cleansed’ was that mixed with the ashes of the heifer, ‘the water for purification’ (Numbers 19:17; Numbers 19:20-21; Numbers 31:23 compare Isaiah 8:7). Constantly the one who has washed in ordinary water is regularly informed that he will not ‘be clean until the evening’ (Leviticus 15:2-24). It is the period of waiting before God in humble dependence subsequent to washing that cleanses. Thus steady progress in becoming clean before God is in mind here, although in this case not by ritual but by repentance, response and behaviour.
“Come now and let us reason together,”
“Though your sins be as scarlet,
They will be as white as snow.
Though they are red like crimson,
They will be as wool.”
The contrast is between before and after. The scarlet and the red have especially in mind the ‘bloodiness’ of Isaiah 1:15. By repenting and becoming renewed in accordance with the covenant their bloodstained hands and clothing will become transformed so that they are as white as snow, as white as wool. They will be forgiven and transformed from being those who approve of, and gain by, violence, by the way of harshness and self-gain, to being those who follow God’s non-violent ways, the way of compassion, and this will be true both without and within. Thus will they become acceptable to God and clean before Him (Isaiah 1:16).
‘Come let us reason together.’ This is probably intended to have a forensic sense, like pleading in a court of law. The Great Judge reminds them that they are in court before Him and pleads with His people that he might restore them to His mercy.
“If you are willing and obedient,
You will eat the good of the land,
But if you refuse and rebel,
You will be devoured by the sword.
For the mouth of Yahweh has spoken it.”
The choice is laid before them. They must either be willing to respond to His covenant and become obedient to His instruction, in which case their inheritance will be theirs, and ‘they will eat the good of the land’, or they can continue refusing to respond to the covenant, and continue their rebellion, in which case they will be devoured by the sword, that is, the sword will ‘eat them’ instead of them eating the good of the land.
So the stark choice is that they can choose to eat or be eaten. They can either have blessing in the land by loving God and walking in His ways (Deuteronomy 30:15-16), in fulfilment of the covenant, or they can receive judgment by the sword, and be devoured by it.
‘For the mouth of Yahweh has spoken it.’ Isaiah wants them to be in no doubt that this is the solemn word of Yahweh. He has said it and they can be sure that He will do it, either the one way or the other (compare Isaiah 1:2).
For the whole passage from Isaiah 1:2-18 note the progression. In Isaiah 1:2 the heavens and earth were called on as witness to what Yahweh has declared and determined on His people, in Isaiah 1:10 the rulers and the people of the wicked city were themselves called on to consider their ways, and in Isaiah 1:18 all who will hear are called on to be willing to respond God’s appeal. Again, in Isaiah 1:4-9 their state is revealed, in Isaiah 1:11-15 they are assured that no vain ritual can cleanse them because of the state of their hearts, and in Isaiah 1:16-20 they are called on to receive the new cleansing and new hearts that they need by response to Yahweh and His covenant.
In some ways this call to repent comes to us also, day by day. We need constantly to consider our ways, not morbidly but sensibly; to wash and cleanse ourselves by repentance and reception of forgiveness; to ask ourselves whether our worship is becoming stereotyped and formal, or whether our worship is still heartfelt and true. Thus will we retain a genuine relationship with God and avoid His chastisement.
A Further Description of Their State Before God (Isaiah 1:21-23 ).
‘How is the faithful city,
Become a prostitute?
She who was full of discerning judgment.
Righteousness lodged in her,
But now murderers.’
The question now is, how has Israel got herself into this state? The description of her downfall is potent. She had been ‘a faithful city’, like a faithful wife to Yahweh, but now she was behaving like a prostitute. She had been true living, but now she was loose living. She had been full of discerning judgment, with righteousness lodging in her, but now she was indwelt by murderers.
Isaiah is possibly looking back to the time of David, who for all his faults was a good and wise king, and to the first part of the reign of Solomon, both somewhat idealised. And possibly in more recent memory to the time of the good king Uzziah, again idealised (‘the good old days’). Then Jerusalem had been faithful, a faithful wife to Yahweh. But now she had become a prostitute.
This may well to some extent have in mind the idolatry into which Ahaz had led Jerusalem and Judah, especially his dalliance with child sacrifice, partly by choice, and partly because of his treaty with the Assyrians (2 Kings 16:0). But it goes further than that. The whole city is in mind. The failure is widespread. They have followed the king’s lead, and idolatry and injustice have become rampant. They seize every opportunity for pagan worship, and are taken up with everything but God.
As always the result of their ignoring the covenant and following such ideas was immoral behaviour and unfair and unreliable ‘justice’. She who had been full of discerning judgment in accordance with the covenant, who had been the dwellingplace of righteousness as determined by that covenant, had now sunk to the level of other nations. They had become ‘murderers’, men of blood (compare ‘bloods’ Isaiah 1:15). This could include the idea of the child sacrifices, which were seen by God as an abomination. But it also had prominently in mind the use by evil men of the judicial system to get rid of those who opposed them, or to weaken the position and resolve of others from whom they sought to gain advantage, even to the point of the calling on the death sentence. Life had become relatively cheap because justice had become slack and open to manipulation by bribes and pressure.
‘Your silver has become dross, your wine mixed with water.’
This may have in mind that dishonest trading had become rampant. That silver sold as pure was in fact impure, or even a sham, and that wine was being watered down for sale. But it almost certainly also includes the wider idea that their lives and behaviour have suffered in the same way. Men are no longer pure and trustworthy. They can no longer stand the test. They have become dross (compare Jeremiah 6:28-30; Ezekiel 22:18). They are watered down, their fullness spoiled. They have become insipid to the taste.
‘Your princes are rebellious,
And companions of thieves.
Every one loves gifts,
And follows after rewards.
They do not judge the fatherless,
Nor does the cause of the widow come to them.’
The chief men of the city are in rebellion against the covenant, ignoring God’s laws. The very ones who are the focus of justice are consorting with those who are dishonest and untrustworthy. Everyone is out for what they can get, looking for backhanders and not being willing to do anything without being rewarded, and the cause of the needy goes unresolved because it is not worth either time or consideration. And this is because the needy bring no gifts, only their needs.
This is always the sign of a decaying society. Politicians ignore God’s laws and consort with those who are dishonest, even resorting to threats or worse. Bribery and backhanders in business and civic life become rife. Justice is made a show of, but is not really available to all or carried into effect. Outwardly all is well. Inwardly all is rotten. And the result is the continual deterioration of society. How much we see of it today. We must ensure that we are not a part of it.
God’s Purpose For The Future (Isaiah 1:21-26 ).
The call having been made to Israel for response, God describes their present state and guarantees that in the end He will bring their transformation about.
a How is the faithful city, become a prostitute? She who was full of discerning judgment. Righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers (Isaiah 1:21).
b Your silver has become dross, your wine mixed with water. Your princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves (Isaiah 1:22-23 a).
c Every one loves gifts, and follows after rewards. They do not judge the fatherless, nor does the cause of the widow come to them (Isaiah 1:23 b).
c Therefore thus says the Lord, Yahweh of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel. “Ah, I will ease myself of my adversaries, and avenge myself on my enemies” (Isaiah 1:24).
b “And I will turn my hand on you, and purge away your dross as with lye, and will take away all your impurity (literally ‘tin’). And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counsellors as at the beginning” (Isaiah 1:25-26 a).
a “Afterwards your city will be called, ‘The city of righteousness, the faithful city’. Zion will be redeemed with justice (judgment), and her converts (those who return) with righteousness” (Isaiah 1:26-27).
In this remarkable passage we find ‘the faithful city which has become a prostitute’ (Isaiah 1:21), being finally restored to being ‘the city of righteousness the faithful city’ (Isaiah 1:26-27); perverted justice (Isaiah 1:21) becoming true justice (Isaiah 1:26), the dross that filled her (Isaiah 1:22) being removed (Isaiah 1:25); the rebellious princes (Isaiah 1:23) being finally restored (Isaiah 1:26 a), injustice (Isaiah 1:23 b) being dealt with by the Mighty One of Israel avenging Himself on those who are enemies of His covenant (Isaiah 1:24). Note again the characteristic chiastic construction on which it is based, the remedies being in inverted order to the problems.
The Great Clean Up (Isaiah 1:24-26 ).
God now speaks. Without His action there would be no hope and no future, but He declares His intention to act in sovereign power and bring about that deliverance. Finally the future is bright for those who will receive it because the future is God’s, but only for those who will receive it. We should note that it is not a blanket promise. Not all Israel were the true Israel (Romans 9:6). Those who were unwilling to receive His offer of mercy would be condemned (Isaiah 1:28-31).
‘Therefore thus says the Lord,
Yahweh of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel.
“Ah, I will ease myself of my adversaries,
And avenge myself on my enemies.
And I will turn my hand on you,
And purge away your dross as with lye,
And will take away all your impurity (literally ‘tin’).
And I will restore your judges as at the first,
And your counsellors as at the beginning.
Afterwards your city will be called,
The city of righteousness, the faithful city.
Zion will be redeemed with judgment, and her converts (those who return) with righteousness.
Following the pattern of ideas of the previous verses, but in reverse order, we begin with the One Who is in complete contrast to the princes. No doubt they made much of themselves and exalted themselves, but the threefold description of the One described here is all prevailing. The contrast is deliberate. Beside Him they are but pygmies. He is the Lord, Yahweh of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel. Note the great stress laid on His power. Firstly He is the Sovereign Lord, the Great King. Secondly He is the One Who rules and controls all things, whether above the heavens, in the heavens or on the earth. He is the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe. Thirdly He is the Mighty Saviour and Deliverer (Isaiah 49:26; Isaiah 60:16). Just one title would have been sufficient, the combination is overwhelming.
‘Ah, I will ease myself of my adversaries, and avenge myself on my enemies.’ Yahweh will take over from the princes and bring about His will. He will ease the sense of righteous burden in His own heart at the behaviour of those who have proved to be His adversaries by ignoring His covenant, by thrusting them from Him. Thus will He satisfy His own righteous requirements against those who are His enemies. Only foolish man would have dared to take up such a position against God.
‘Ah!’ This is full of feeling. God’s reaction is not mechanical.
‘I will turn my hand on you and purge away your dross as with lye, and will take away all your impurity (literally ‘tin’).’ Furthermore He will Himself act sternly by the removal of the dross and the impurities in His people by His own hand. He will vigorously scrub them clean, removing all trace of impurity. There is a mixed metaphor here, although to ‘purge with lye’ may well have been a recognised figure of speech. Soap (lye) would not usually be used for removing dross, except dross given a wider meaning, but it ties in better with Isaiah 1:16. ‘Turn the hand’ usually depicts hostile action (compare Psalms 81:14; Amos 1:8; Jeremiah 6:9). The thought is forceful. It will be the rough treatment of a stern but merciful master on an undeserving servant. Their period of refining will not, however, be pleasant. It is only man, not God, who thinks that sin can be easily dealt with.
‘And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counsellors as at the beginning.’ This is His final aim. Justice and proper guidance for His people. A righteous rule. This, speaking in human terms, will be obtained by the raising up and appointing of new Justices and new Counsellors who will measure up to the best of what has gone before. In other words His people will be properly ruled and shepherded.
Looking back from our standpoint we can see how God has been carrying out these works through the ages. He has raised up teachers for His people, through John the Baptiser, through Jesus Himself, through His Apostles, and through those who have faithfully followed them in the ministration of God’s word. And through their ministration He has been refining a people for Himself in readiness for them being with Him in the City of Righteousness.
‘Afterwards your city will be called, The City of Righteousness, the Faithful City.’ The result of all this will be that their dwellingplace will be called ‘the city of righteousness’, the city in which no impurity or dross can be found, the city where all is seen as right before the righteous Judge, a city satisfying even to God Himself. A city completely true to the covenant. (We must therefore add, a heavenly city - Revelation 21-22 - no earthly city could be like this).
(Many literalise such descriptions but as mentioned in the introduction prophecy had to be given in terms of the life-situation, background and understanding of those who heard it. When early missionaries went to the eskimoes they spoke of seals instead of sheep, of the harpoon of God instead of the sword of the Lord and of the great igloo in the sky instead of Heaven, otherwise their message would have been meaningless. In the same way the prophets were prophesying to people who had no conception of Heaven. They thus spoke of it in terms of a glorified Jerusalem. Later John in Revelation 21:0 would speak of it as a city of gold, with gates of pearl and forming a perfect cube with Apostles as its foundation. None of the descriptions were to be taken literally. So in all our reading we must use discernment. And this applies throughout all the prophets. We must discern what they are trying to say).
‘The faithful city.’ This in contrast to the prostitute city of Isaiah 1:21. It will be wholly true to Yahweh. Its dedication and response to God will be total. But it is also ‘faithful’ because of its new enduring nature. The word used for ‘faithful’ contains within it the sense of enduring. It will be an everlasting city.
‘Zion will be redeemed with judgment, and her converts (those who return) with righteousness.’ The result will be that Zion will be redeemed in justice and righteousness. She will have been fully restored to what she should be. Note how ‘Zion’ here represents the true Israel, the Israel within Israel, ‘her converts’ (‘those who return, who turn again’). The term ‘Israel’ has two aspects, outwardly it is the people who declare that they are Yahweh’s people, but, in contrast, in Yahweh’s eyes it is those who are Yahweh’s true people, the spiritual part of Israel. They are the true Israel. For all who are not true are in the end to be ‘cut off’ because they are not true Israel. The two ideas are thus constantly held in tension.
This redemption with justice and righteousness will be by the exertion of God’s delivering power. Redemption (see also Isaiah 29:22; Isaiah 35:10; Isaiah 51:11) always indicates a cost (Exodus 13:13; Exodus 34:20; Leviticus 25:29; Leviticus 27:27; Numbers 3:48; Deuteronomy 15:15), and it must necessarily be so for otherwise it would not be in justice. In some way God has taken the cost on Himself (this cost will be stressed in Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12). So will His people be accepted as just and right before Him.
This verse (Isaiah 1:27) is an important seed verse. Zion was very much the city of David, so that it contains embedded within it the idea of the Davidic kingship, the king over Zion, and the idea of the holy remnant, both of which will be prominent later on. But we see here how closely the idea of Zion and the people are seen as one. Zion is her people.
Doom and Gloom (Isaiah 1:28-31 ).
In contrast with this glorious future for the true Israel, is the fate determined for those who are untrue, those who do not respond to God’s activity, as described in Isaiah 1:28 onwards.
a But the destruction of the transgressors and the sinners will be together, and they who forsake Yahweh will be consumed.
b For they will be ashamed of the oaks which you have desired, and you will be confounded for the gardens which you have chosen.
b For you will be as an oak whose leaf fades, and as a garden which has no water.
a And the strong will be as tow, and his work as a spark, and they will both burn together, and none will quench them
And the destruction of the transgressors and the sinners will be together,
And they who forsake Yahweh will be consumed.’
In contrast with the redemption of the righteous is the fact that transgressors and sinners (the opposite of the just and the righteous) will be destroyed, and those who forsake Yahweh, those who are unfaithful, will be consumed. God’s mercy will not reach all. Some will turn from it. Not all God’s nominal people are God’s true people. Time will reveal which are which.
‘For they will be ashamed of the oaks which you have desired,
And you will be confounded for the gardens which you have chosen.’
This sudden change of pronoun appears constantly throughout the Old Testament as the writers seek to bring home their words more personally. In that day those who perish will, in their perishing, be ashamed of the sacred oaks to which they have made obeisance, the very oaks which ‘you hearers’ still do ‘desire’ (seek to worship). And you will be confounded because of the sacred gardens, symbols of the fertility cult, that you have set your heart on, but which fail you in the end. ‘Ashamed’ and ‘confounded’ do not just include embarrassment, but also the sense of their failure. These in which they trusted have let them down. They have been fools.
The sacred gardens were places to which men went for their unnatural activities with sacred prostitutes and loose women as they sought to influence or imitate nature through their manifested behaviour. Possibly they also sought to absorb life from the trees. But it would do them no good. The gardens had nothing real to offer.
‘For you will be as an oak whose leaf fades,
And as a garden which has no water.
And the strong will be as tow,
And his work as a spark,
And they will both burn together,
And none will quench them.’
Instead of gaining life force from their sacred oaks, their sacred watered gardens and their sacred activities, which in their vain hope and lust they saw as life-giving, these will rather be like a fading oak whose leaf withers and is cast off, and like a waterless garden which has no source of life, and is therefore bare and empty. For the gods can give no life. They are lifeless themselves. Even the strong man, with his ‘work’ (i.e. his idol which he has made for himself), will be like tow, that is, a piece of hemp or similar flammable material, made ready for burning, and lit by a spark. Both man and idol will burn up together. No one will be able to prevent it or put out the flame.
So God is finally merciful to His own. He chastens that He might restore. But for those who will not respond mercy finally runs out. For them there can only be judgment.
Note. Yahweh as sovereign ‘Lord’ (adonai) is a regular feature of Isaiah. As sovereign Lord He judges His enemies, delivering and refining His people and destroying His enemies (Isaiah 1:24-28); He removes from sinful Judah and Jerusalem their mainstay (Isaiah 3:1-3); He punishes the vain and arrogant women (daughters of Zion) with scabs and takes away the jewellery and ornaments in which the women delight (Isaiah 3:16-23); He will wash away the filth of the daughters of Zion and purge Jerusalem from its bloodiness (Isaiah 4:4); He thwarts the enemies of Jerusalem and Judah (Isaiah 7:7), even the powerful Assyria (Isaiah 7:20); He will bring up mighty Assyria against His people because they look elsewhere than to Him (Isaiah 8:7); His word reveals itself against His opponents (Isaiah 8:8); He turns away from those who do evil (Isaiah 9:17); He will perform His work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem (Isaiah 10:12); He will bring judgment on the king of Assyria (Isaiah 10:16); He will bring about His determined will (Isaiah 10:23); He will work on behalf of His true people (Isaiah 10:24); He will cut down their enemies (Isaiah 10:33); He will bring back His people from all over the world (Isaiah 11:11); and so on to Isaiah 65:13-18 where He provides blessing and a new heaven and a new earth to the faithful remnant. End of note.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 1". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany