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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 1

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

Introduction

Isaiah 1:0

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS*

NASBNKJVNRSVTEVNJB
Rebellion of God's PeopleSuperscriptionTitle
Isaiah 1:1-3Isaiah 1:1Isaiah 1:1Isaiah 1:1Isaiah 1:1
(2-3)The Wickedness of JudahFirst Series of OraclesGod Reprimands His PeopleAgainst an Ungrateful People
Isaiah 1:2-4(2-3)Isaiah 1:2-31(2-3)Isaiah 1:2-3Isaiah 1:2-9(2-9)
Isaiah 1:4(4)(4)(4)Isaiah 1:4-6
Isaiah 1:5-6(5-6)Isaiah 1:5-9(5-6)(5-6)
Isaiah 1:7-9(7-9)(7-9)(7-9)Isaiah 1:7-9
God Has Had EnoughAgainst Hypocrisy
Isaiah 1:10-15(10-15)Isaiah 1:10-17(10-11)(12-15)(10-17)Isaiah 1:10-14Isaiah 1:10-20(10)
Isaiah 1:15-17
(11-17)
Isaiah 1:16-17(16-17)(16-17)
Let Us Reason
Isaiah 1:18-20(18-20)Isaiah 1:18-20(18-20)(18-20)Isaiah 1:18-20(18-20)
Zion Corrupted, To Be RedeemedThe Degenerate CityThe Sinful CityLament of Jerusalem
Isaiah 1:21-23(21-23)Isaiah 1:21-23(21-23)(21-23)Isaiah 1:21-23Isaiah 1:21-28(21)
(22-23)
Isaiah 1:24-26(24-26)Isaiah 1:24-31(24-26)(24-26)Isaiah 1:24-26(24)
(25)
(26)
Isaiah 1:27-31(27-31) (27-31) (27-31)Isaiah 1:27-28 (27-28)
Against Sacred Trees
Isaiah 1:29-31Isaiah 1:29-31(29-31)

* Although they are not inspired, paragraph divisions are the key to understanding and following the original author's intent. Each modern translation has divided and summarized the paragraphs. Every paragraph has one central topic, truth, or thought. Each version encapsulates that topic in its own distinct way. As you read the text, ask yourself which translation fits your understanding of the subject and verse divisions.

In every chapter we must read the Bible first and try to identify its subjects (paragraphs), then compare our understanding with the modern versions. Only when we understand the original author's intent by following his logic and presentation can we truly understand the Bible. Only the original author is inspiredreaders have no right to change or modify the message. Bible readers do have the responsibility of applying the inspired truth to their day and their lives.

Note that all technical terms and abbreviations are explained fully in the following documents: Hebrew Grammar, Textual Criticism, and Glossary.

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. The prophets typically used three standard metaphorical literary forms to communicate their messages.

1. court case (cf. Isaiah 1:2, Isaiah 1:18)

2. funeral dirge (cf. Isaiah 1:24-26)

3. promise oracle

B. It is surprising that Isaiah's call is recorded in chapter 6. There is only the brief introduction in Isaiah 1:1. However, this brief introduction tells about the length and time of Isaiah's ministry. Obviously only a few selected visions, poems, and revelations to Isaiah are recorded, either by himself late in his ministry or by followers after his death. R. K. Harrison calls the book an anthology.

C. Chapter 1 may be a summary of the entire book. The same themes are repeated through Isaiah's writings. Most prominent is the vision of Judah's sins of

1. intentional covenant violations

2. trust in formalism and liturgy

3. social injustice

4. idolatry

The consequences of Leviticus 26:0 and Deuteronomy 28:0 must come to bear if God is true to His word! The consequences of known sin are as real as the promises of YHWH's love, care, and protection. They are two sides of one covenant! Remember the purpose of judgment was the restoration of intimate fellowship, like the Garden of Eden before the Fall, before the image and likeness of God were damaged!

Verses 1-3

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 1:1-3 1The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz concerning Judah and Jerusalem, which he saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. 2Listen, O heavens, and hear, O earth; For the Lord speaks, “Sons I have reared and brought up, But they have revolted against Me. 3An ox knows its owner, And a donkey its master's manger, But Israel does not know, My people do not understand.”

Isaiah 1:1 “vision” This term (BDB 302) is used in the sense of a “revelatory message” (cf. Isaiah 29:7; Micah 3:6). The terms “visions” and “dreams” are parallel in Isaiah 29:7 (cf. Daniel 7:1). Usually dreams occur at night and visions both day and night. It appears to describe an altered state of consciousness whereby God, through metaphors, idioms, and physical objects, communicates special revelation. These truths are divine, not human. Isaiah probably structured the messages, but the content was from God! It is hard to describe the mechanisms of inspiration, but the results are a divine, authoritative message.

Here, in this context of an opening verse, the term is used as a title for Isaiah's messages (cf. Isaiah 2:1; Isaiah 13:1; Amos 1:1; Micah 1:1; Habakkuk 1:1).

“Isaiah” The name (BDB 447) means “YHWH saves” or “salvation is of YHWH” (there is no VERB). When “iah” appears on the end of a Hebrew name, it implies royalty and also stands for the covenant name of God, YHWH (cf. Exodus 3:14).

SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY

“Amoz” This person (BDB 55) is mentioned only in connection to Isaiah. The basic root means “strength,” “strong,” or “mighty.”

“he saw” This VERB, (חזה, BDB 302, KB 301, Qal PERFECT) is from a similar root, “visions” (חזון) and the same as “seer” (חזה). It is used repeatedly in Isaiah (cf. Micah 1:1).

“Uzziah” Tradition says that Isaiah was related to Uzziah (“YHWH is my strength”). This cannot be corroborated, but the evidence points in this direction. This godly king died of leprosy in 740 B.C. (there is no consensus on the dates of his reign). He is also known in the Bible as Azariah (“YHWH is my help”).

For the dates of these kings and their relationship to the kings of Israel, see Appendix Four.

Isaiah 1:2 “Listen, O heavens, and hear, O earth” These two IMPERATIVES are from different roots, but mean basically the same.

1. listen, BDB 1033, KB 1570, Qal IMPERATIVE, cf. Isaiah 1:10, Isaiah 1:15, Isaiah 1:19; Isaiah 6:8, Isaiah 6:9 (twice),10, etc.

2. hear, BDB 24, KB 27, Hiphil IMPERATIVE, cf. Isaiah 1:2, Isaiah 1:10; Isaiah 8:9; Isaiah 28:23; Isaiah 32:9; etc.

This was a striking way to jolt His people into acknowledging their rebellion. YHWH was initiating a court case against His own people! This opening is similar to Micah 1:2, Isaiah's contemporary Judean prophet.

This sets the stage for chapter 2, which is also a court scene. God is taking his people to trial. This is a common literary technique in the Prophets (i.e., Micah 6:6-8; Jeremiah 2:1ff; Romans 8:31ff). This is a common procedure in the OT of providing two witnesses to confirm a testimony (cf. Deuteronomy 4:26; Deuteronomy 30:19; Deuteronomy 31:28; Deuteronomy 32:1; Psalms 50:4).

“Heaven” (BDB 1029) here refers to the atmosphere above the earth which was part of original creation (cf. Genesis 1:0). In this context it does not refer to “God's abode.”

“For the LORD speaks” This is the covenant name for Israel's Deity. See Special Topic: NAMES FOR DEITY.

“Sons I have reared and brought up” Here again God is described in anthropomorphic, familiar terms as a loving parent of Hosea 11:1-4 (also note Exodus 4:22; Deuteronomy 32:6; Jeremiah 3:4; Jeremiah 31:9, see Special Topic at Isaiah 6:1). The best human analogies to comprehend the character and actions of YHWH are (1) parent; (2) marriage partner; and (3) kinsman redeemer.

“revolt” This VERB (BDB 833, KB 981, Qal PERFECT) implies active, violent, open-eyed, personal rebellion (cf. Isaiah 1:28; Isaiah 43:27; Isaiah 46:8; Isaiah 53:12; Isaiah 59:13; Isaiah 66:24).

“Me” Sin is primarily a violation against God (cf. Genesis 39:9; 2 Samuel 12:13; Psalms 41:4; Psalms 51:4). Norman H. Snaith, The Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament, says “(the prophets) thought of it (sin) as rebellion rather than transgression” (p. 65). Sin is a perversion of the divine image and likeness of God in humankind (cf. Genesis 1:26, Genesis 1:27). God wants the world to know Him! He chose a person (Abram), a family (Jacob), and a nation (Israel) to reveal Himself to all humanity (see Special Topic at Isaiah 1:3), but Israel failed to reflect the holiness and compassion of YHWH. They rebelled against Him with “opened eyes.” The essence of sin is “me,” more for me at any cost!

Isaiah 1:3 This verse may have been a well known, cultural proverb. Even dumb animals do not bite the hand that feeds them, but Judah does!

“Israel does not know” The VERB “know” (BDB 393, KB 390, Qal PERFECT) does not imply facts about a subject, but personal knowledge of someone (cf. Genesis 4:1; Jeremiah 1:5). Israel did not know their own creator, savior, and protector because they would not listen (cf. Isaiah 5:12, Isaiah 5:13; Isaiah 6:9-13; Isaiah 30:9).

“My people” This is covenant language (cf. Hosea 1-3, Hosea 1:11). It must be remembered that in the OT, election is God's primary initiating choice of Abraham and Israel. There is commensurate responsibility after God's initial choice known as covenant. This involves responsibility on both sides.

SPECIAL TOPIC: YHWH's ETERNAL REDEMPTIVE PLAN

SPECIAL TOPIC: Election/Predestination and the Need for a Theological Balance

“do not understand” This VERB (BDB 106, KB 122, Hithpalel PERFECT) in this stem means “to be inattentive.” The problem was not lack of knowledge, but their unwillingness to obey (cf. Isaiah 6:9, Isaiah 6:10; Deuteronomy 4:6; Deuteronomy 32:29). They were content with a facade of religiosity (the cultus of Israel), but without the necessary lifelong faith, repentance, and personal trust! Their true nature is described in Isaiah 5:18-23, esp. Isaiah 1:21 (cf. Micah 4:12). They were covenant people in title, but not covenant people in heart (cf. Romans 2:28-29; Romans 9:6)!

Verse 4

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 1:4 4Alas, sinful nation, People weighed down with iniquity, Offspring of evildoers, Sons who act corruptly! They have abandoned the Lord, They have despised the Holy One of Israel, They have turned away from Him.

Isaiah 1:4 “Alas” The INTERJECTION (BDB 222) introduces declarations of judgment (cf. Isaiah 10:5; Isaiah 17:12; Isaiah 28:1; Isaiah 29:15; Isaiah 31:1; Isaiah 45:9, Isaiah 45:10; Amos 5:18; Amos 6:1).

“sinful nation” The common term “sinful” (BDB 306, KB 305, Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE) means “to miss the mark.” The term “nation” is goy (BDB 156). This term is often used for the Gentiles, but it can refer to Israel (cf. Exodus 19:5-6). Israel was meant to be a holy nation (cf. Exodus 19:5-6), yet she turned out to be a sinful nation. What a reversal of expectations!

“People weighed down with iniquity” This term “to be bent” or “heavy” (BDB 458) is another metaphor to describe sin as a burden on mankind's back (cf. Matthew 11:28). All of the Hebrew words for sin are related to crookedness or being bent (i.e., miss the mark) because the Hebrew term for righteousness used of God means a “measuring reed” or “ruler.”

SPECIAL TOPIC: RIGHTEOUSNESS

“Offspring of evil-doers,

Sons who act corruptly” This seems to relate to Exodus 20:5 where the evil lifestyles of the parent are communicated to the children.

Notice the parallelism.

1. sinful nation, Isaiah 1:4

2. weighed down with iniquity, Isaiah 1:4

3. offspring of evildoers, Isaiah 1:4

4. sons who act corruptly, Isaiah 1:4

Also notice the parallel clauses that follow.

1. they have abandoned (BDB 736, KB 806, Qal PERFECT) the Lord

2. they have despised (BDB 610, KB 658, Piel PERFECT) the Holy One of Israel

3. they have turned away (BDB 266, KB 267, Niphal PERFECT) from Him

All speak of the actions of an informed, but rebellious, covenant people (notice the number of different word pictures for sin). By their actions and choices they are rejecting YHWH! These PERFECT stems denote a settled attitude!

These people were to be the blessed “seed” (BDB 282) of Abraham (cf. Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:15, Genesis 13:16; Genesis 16:10; Genesis 22:17, Genesis 22:18; Genesis 24:7; Genesis 26:3, Genesis 26:4, Genesis 26:24; Genesis 28:13, Genesis 28:14; Genesis 32:12), but they had become the “seed” of evildoers! What a tragedy of wasted revelation and opportunity (cf. Luke 12:48)!

“the Holy One of Israel” This is a favorite title for Deity in Isaiah (cf. Isaiah 1:4; Isaiah 5:19; Isaiah 10:17, Isaiah 10:20; Isaiah 12:6; Isaiah 17:7; Isaiah 29:19, Isaiah 29:23; Isaiah 30:11, Isaiah 30:12, Isaiah 30:15; Isaiah 31:1; Isaiah 37:23; also in the second part of Isaiah, Isaiah 40:25; Isaiah 41:14, Isaiah 41:16, Isaiah 41:20; Isaiah 43:3, Isaiah 43:14, Isaiah 43:15; Isaiah 45:11; Isaiah 47:4; Isaiah 48:17; Isaiah 49:7; Isaiah 54:5; Isaiah 55:5; Isaiah 60:9, Isaiah 60:14). Because He is “holy,” His people should be holy (cf. Leviticus 19:2; Matthew 5:48; 1 Peter 1:16).

This title, in a sense, expresses the impossible tension of a sinful, fallen people conforming to a holy standard. The Mosaic Covenant was impossible to keep (cf. Acts 15:0; Galatians 3:0; Hebrews). The old covenant was a way to show the impossibility of humans to conform to God's standard, yet He was with them, for them, preparing them for His answer to their fallen condition. He does not lower His standard, but provides it through His Messiah. The new covenant (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:22-38) is a covenant of faith and repentance, not human performance, though it issues in Christlikeness (cf. James 2:14-26). God wants a people who reflect His character to the nations (cf. Matthew 5:48).

SPECIAL TOPIC: NEW TESTAMENT HOLINESS/SANCTIFICATION

“They have turned away from Him” This literally is “turned away backward” (BDB 30, cf. Isaiah 44:25). We would say, “they have willfully turned their back on Him” (cf. Isaiah 1:2).

Verses 5-6

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 1:5-6 5Where will you be stricken again, As you continue in your rebellion? The whole head is sick And the whole heart is faint. 6From the sole of the foot even to the head There is nothing sound in it, Only bruises, welts and raw wounds, Not pressed out or bandaged, Nor softened with oil.

Isaiah 1:5 Here God's people are personified as physically sick individuals. This is a good example of physical sickness as a metaphor for sin (cf. Isaiah 53:4-6; Psalms 103:3; Hosea 5:13). Physical healing is not part of the promise of atonement, but a full and complete forgiveness is! Sin and sickness are related (cf. John 9:2; James 5:5).

“Where” NKJV, NRSV, TEV, NIV, RSV, and ASV correctly translate this as “why” (BDB 752 II), which focuses on the reason for such continuing rebellion.

As you continue in your rebellion” This VERB (BDB 414, KB 418, Hiphil IMPERFECT) denotes a repeated, continuing attitude of rebellion against God's clearly revealed will.

“whole head. . .whole heart” This parallelism denotes the whole person (thoughts, motives, and actions). The second phrase is also found in Jeremiah 8:18 and Lamentations 1:22, which shows it was a common idiom.

Isaiah 1:6 “nothing sound in it” This NOUN (BDB 1071) denotes “completeness,” “innocence,” or “integrity.” In this context it functions as a metaphor of

1. a life without integrity (cf. Genesis 20:5, Genesis 20:6; Psalms 78:72; Psalms 101:2)

2. an unhealthy person (cf. Psalms 38:3)

The remainder of Isaiah 1:6 describes ancient medical procedures.

1. pressed out

2. bandaged

3. softened with oil (oil as medication, cf. Luke 10:34; James 5:14)

A person (or nation) whose wound was not properly cleaned and bandaged could not hope to recover (cf. Hosea 6:1).

Verses 7-9

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 1:7-9 7Your land is desolate, Your cities are burned with fire, Your fields - strangers are devouring them in your presence; It is desolation, as overthrown by strangers. 8The daughter of Zion is left like a shelter in a vineyard, Like a watchman's hut in a cucumber field, like a besieged city. 9Unless the Lord of hosts Had left us a few survivors, We would be like Sodom, We would be like Gomorrah.

Isaiah 1:7 This reflects an exile, probably either the Assyrian attack in 701 B.C. and invasion of Israel in 723 B.C. or possibly the Babylonian invasion of Judah in 586 B.C. Remember Isaiah, the book, is a compilation of his messages. The exact historical setting is not stated. Often his poems can refer to different invasions. They may even have been structured for purposeful ambiguity. It reflects the curses of Deuteronomy 28:0.

NASB, NKJV“strangers” NRSV“aliens” TEV, NJB“foreigners”

This PARTICIPLE (BDB 266, KB 267, Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE, twice) denotes someone from a different family, tribe, nation (cf. Isaiah 25:2, Isaiah 25:5; Isaiah 29:5; Isaiah 61:5), usually an enemy of the covenant people. YHWH judges His people by the use of pagan enemies (cf. Isaiah 10:5).

Isaiah 1:8 “The daughter of Zion” The parent-child motif is begun in Isaiah 1:2. Here it is continued into a metaphor that will recur in prophetic literature.

1. daughter of Zion, Isaiah 1:8; Isaiah 10:32; Isaiah 16:1; Isaiah 37:22; Isaiah 52:2; Isaiah 62:11; Jeremiah 4:31; Jeremiah 6:23; Lamentations 1:6; Lamentations 2:1, Lamentations 2:4, Lamentations 2:8; Lamentations 2:18; Micah 4:8, Micah 4:10, Micah 4:13; Zephaniah 3:14; Zechariah 2:10; Zechariah 9:9

2. daughter of Jerusalem, Isaiah 37:22

3. daughter of Judah, Lamentations 2:2, Lamentations 2:5, Lamentations 2:13, Lamentations 2:15; Micah 4:8

4. daughter of Tyre, Psalms 45:12

5. daughter of Babylon, Psalms 137:8; Isaiah 47:1 (virgin daughter); Jeremiah 50:42; Jeremiah 51:33; Zechariah 2:7

6. daughter of my people, Isaiah 22:4; Jeremiah 4:11; Jeremiah 6:26; Jeremiah 8:11, Jeremiah 8:19, Jeremiah 8:21, Jeremiah 8:22; Jeremiah 9:1, Jeremiah 9:7; Lamentations 2:11; Lamentations 3:48; Lamentations 4:6, Lamentations 4:10

7. virgin daughter, Isaiah 23:12; Isaiah 23:12; Isaiah 37:22; Jeremiah 14:17; Jeremiah 46:11; Lamentations 1:15; Lamentations 2:13

8. daughter of Egypt, Jeremiah 46:24

9. daughter of Edom, Lamentations 4:21, Lamentations 4:22

10. daughter of Tarshish, Isaiah 23:10

11. daughter of the Chaldeans, Isaiah 47:1, Isaiah 47:5

12. faithless daughter, Jeremiah 31:22

Obviously it was a tender idiom referring to the inhabitants of a nation, region, or city.

“Like a watchman's hut in a cucumber field” This refers to the very fragile, flimsy structure (cf. Isaiah 24:20) that is erected during harvest time as a shelter for guards to protect the crop from robbers. Without God His people have no protection or hope (cf. Isaiah 1:9).

Isaiah 1:9 “the Lord of Hosts” See Special Topic following,

SPECIAL TOPIC: LORD OF HOSTS

“Had left us a few survivors” This refers to the terrible judgment of the Assyrian and/or the Babylonian exiles of God's people from the Promised Land.

It denotes the concept of “a faithful remnant” of believers (cf. Isaiah 10:20-22; Isaiah 11:11, Isaiah 11:16; Isaiah 37:4, Isaiah 37:31, Isaiah 37:32; Isaiah 46:3, see Special Topic below), which Paul refers to and expands to include Gentiles in Romans 9:19-29! Not everyone will be redeemed!

SPECIAL TOPIC: THE REMNANT, THREE SENSES

“Sodom ... Gomorrah” This is a historical allusion to God's judgment recorded in Genesis 18-19. These Canaanite cities became a proverb for both evil and God's judgment of evil.

Verses 10-15

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 1:10-15 10Hear the word of the Lord, You rulers of Sodom; Give ear to the instruction of our God, You people of Gomorrah. 11”What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?” Says the Lord. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fed cattle; And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats. 12When you come to appear before Me, Who requires of you this trampling of My courts? 13Bring your worthless offerings no longer, Incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies - I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. 14I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, They have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them. 15So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood.”

Isaiah 1:10-15 Israel's defense against God's charges of Isaiah 1:2-6 is her religiosity!

Isaiah 1:10 “Hear. . .Give ear” The two IMPERATIVES of Isaiah 1:2 are repeated.

“You rulers of Sodom. . .You people of Gomorrah” Judah is like Sodom and Gomorrah, both her leaders and people are morally corrupt. This phrase was a shocking slur on the covenant people, as was goy of Isaiah 1:4.

NASB“instruction” NKJV“law” NRSV, TEV“teaching”

This is the term Torah (BDB 435). Notice the possible connotations. In this context it could refer to (1) Scripture; (2) the preaching of the prophets; or (3) the teachings of the priests. They knew God's revealed will, but chose not to follow it.

Isaiah 1:11 “What are your multiplied sacrifices to me” It must be remembered, this is not an attack on sacrifice as such, but the attitudes in which people bring their sacrifices (cf. Isaiah 29:13; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21-27; Micah 6:6-8). Ritual can be meaningful if accompanied by a right attitude toward God (cf. Psalms 50:0). See Hard Sayings of the Bible, pp. 207-208, 274-275.

“I have had enough” This VERB (BDB 959, KB 1302, Qal PERFECT) means bloated or sated.

“burnt offerings” This refers to totally burnt sacrifices which symbolized total dedication to God.

“The fat of fed cattle” This refers to sacrifices when only part of the animal (fat of lower viscera) was offered on the altar and the rest was given to the priest or to the person bringing the sacrifice to eat as a communal meal with God and family, friends, and neighbors. The meat of large animals could not be preserved and had to be eaten quickly.

“I take no pleasure in” This VERB (BDB 342, KB 339, Qal PERFECT) denoted YHWH's acceptance of a sacrifice. The usual idiom was “a soothing aroma” (cf. Genesis 8:21; Exodus 29:18, Exodus 29:25). However, YHWH rejected these people's worship (cf. Isaiah 1:10-15).

Isaiah 1:12 “to appear before Me” This refers to one's personal attendance at the Tabernacle/Temple (i.e., Exodus 23:17). They were not coming for true worship, but for ritual liturgy!

Isaiah 1:13 “worthless offerings” This term (BDB 996) means “empty,” “vain,” “nothing.” See special topic below.

SPECIAL TOPIC: Empty, Vain, False, Nothingness

“Incense is an abomination to Me” The term “incense” (BDB 882) means “that which goes up.” Therefore, it could refer to

1. the smoke of sacrifices

2. the smell of incense (usually spices placed on top of the sacrifice) or smoke from the incense altar before the inner veil of the tabernacle/temple

These are strong words! It reminds me of Jeremiah's “Temple sermons” of Jeremiah 7:0. Ritual and liturgy had replaced repentance and faith. They were blind and deaf (cf. Isaiah 6:9-10). They had a form of godliness, but denied true faith (cf. 2 Timothy 3:5). The tragedy is that they thought they were right with God! They thought they were His people! They were wrong, as are so many religious, normal, active religionists in every age.

The term “abomination” (“BDB 1072, see Special Topic: Abomination) is used primarily in Deuteronomy, Proverbs, and Ezekiel. It describes God's reaction to many things.

1. homosexuality, Leviticus 18:22

2. other sexual sins, Leviticus 18:26, Leviticus 18:27, Leviticus 18:29, Leviticus 18:30

3. idolatry, Deuteronomy 7:25, Deuteronomy 7:26; Deuteronomy 12:31; Deuteronomy 14:3; Deuteronomy 17:4; Deuteronomy 27:15; Deuteronomy 32:16; 2 Kings 16:3; 2 Kings 23:13; Jeremiah 32:35

4. blemished animal sacrifices, Deuteronomy 17:1

5. occult practices, Deuteronomy 18:9, Deuteronomy 18:12

6. confusion of gender, Deuteronomy 22:5

7. sacred prostitution, Deuteronomy 23:18; 1 Kings 14:24

8. remarriage after divorce, Deuteronomy 24:4

9. commercial cheating, Deuteronomy 25:15-16; Proverbs 11:1; Proverbs 20:10, Proverbs 20:23

10. the crooked man, Proverbs 3:32; Proverbs 6:16-19; Proverbs 8:7; Proverbs 11:20; Proverbs 12:22; Proverbs 15:26; Jeremiah 7:10

11. sacrifice of the wicked, Proverbs 15:8, Proverbs 15:9; Proverbs 21:27

12. the proud, Proverbs 16:5

13. arrogant leaders, Proverbs 16:12

14. bribed judges, Proverbs 17:15

15. ritualistic offering of incense without lifestyle faith, Isaiah 1:13

“New moon and Sabbath, the calling of assemblies” Remember the Hebrews used the lunar calendar. Every Sabbath was significant and every new moon (cf. Numbers 28:11-15; 2 Kings 4:23; Isaiah 66:23) had a religious orientation as well as the three yearly feasts appointed in the Mosaic law (cf. Exodus 23:14-17; Exodus 34:18-26; Leviticus 23:0; Deuteronomy 16:1-17). See Special Topic: Sabbath.

Isaiah 1:14 The Hebrew syntax here is broken because of the great emotion expressed by Isaiah on behalf of God. The first three VERBS are all PERFECTS (completed).

Isaiah 1:15 “you spread out your hands in prayer Notice that “in prayer” is in italics, which means it is not in the Hebrew text. The spreading out of hands (cf. Exodus 9:29, Exodus 9:33; 1 Kings 8:38, 1 Kings 8:54; 2 Chronicles 6:12) and the lifting up of the eyes to heaven (cf. John 11:41; John 17:1) were the normal Jewish postures for prayer. God refuses to hear (cf. Isaiah 8:17; Isaiah 54:8; Isaiah 59:2; Deuteronomy 31:17; Jeremiah 11:11; Ezekiel 8:18) the prayer of sinful Judeans in their time of need because they came to Him in prayer like they came to Him in sacrifice. Whereas, many sacrifices do not appeal to YHWH, neither does much prayer without heart-felt faith and repentance.

“Your hands are covered with blood” This refers to violent murder or premeditated murder of the innocent.

Verses 16-17

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 1:16-17 16”Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, 17Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.”

Isaiah 1:16-17 The prophet expresses the heart of YHWH in a series of commands.

1. wash yourselves, BDB 934, KB 1220, Qal IMPERATIVE

2. make yourselves clean, BDB 269, KB 269, Hithpael IMPERATIVE

3. remove the evil, BDB 693, KB 747, Hiphil IMPERATIVE

4. cease to do evil, BDB 292, KB 292, Qal IMPERATIVE

5. learn to do good, BDB 540, KB 531, Qal IMPERATIVE

6. seek justice, BDB 205, KB 233, Qal IMPERATIVE

7. reprove the ruthless, BDB 80, KB 97, Piel IMPERATIVE (possibly “rebuke the oppressor”)

8. defend the orphan, BDB 1047, KB 1622, Qal IMPERATIVE

9. plead for the widow, BDB 936, KB 1224, Qal IMPERATIVE

Notice that YHWH's will is expressed in terms of a person's righteous acts of compassion (cf. Matthew 25:31-46). One cannot be rightly related to God and hateful and neglectful toward his covenant brother/sister.

Often there is confusion about biblical faith. Is it based on the character of God (i.e., grace, mercy) or on the actions of believers? And the answer is “yes”! A good example of the covenant reciprocity (always initiated by God) is comparing Ezekiel 18:31 with Ezekiel 36:26-27 (also note Ephesians 2:8-9, Ephesians 2:10)!

SPECIAL TOPIC: EASTERN LITERATURE

Isaiah 1:17

NASB“reprove the ruthless” NKJV“reprove the oppressor” NRSV“rescue the oppressed” TEV“help those who are oppressed” NJB“discipline the violent” LXX“deliver him that is suffering wrong” PESHITTA“do good to the oppressed”

The MT has “set right the oppressors” (found only here), but the VERB means “called blessed” or “set right” (BDB 80, KB 97, Piel IMPERATIVE), which does not fit this context. It is probably best to change the vowel points of the MT from “the oppressors” to “those who are oppressed” (i.e., Qal PARTICIPLE, BDB 330).

“orphan. . .widow” This pair is a symbol of all oppressed and socially disempowered people (cf. Exodus 22:21-22; Deuteronomy 24:17, Deuteronomy 24:19, Deuteronomy 24:20, Deuteronomy 24:21; Job 24:3; Psalms 68:5; Jeremiah 7:6; Lamentations 5:3; Ezekiel 22:7; Zechariah 7:10; Malachi 3:5). They are used together many times in Deuteronomy as the object of YHWH's personal care and attention (i.e., Deuteronomy 10:18; Psalms 10:14, Psalms 10:18; Psalms 68:5; Jeremiah 49:11).

It was especially the office of king in the ANE that was responsible for social justice and fairness!

Verses 18-20

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 1:18-20 18”Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool. 19If you consent and obey, You will eat the best of the land; 20But if you refuse and rebel, You will be devoured by the sword.” Truly, the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Isaiah 1:18-20 “Come now, and let us reason together” The prophet has used the literary metaphor of a “court scene” (i.e., YHWH divorcing His people) to communicate the message of personal responsibility and its consequences! This courtroom analogy continues.

YHWH is ready to forgive if His people will repent and obey! If they refuse, the consequences of covenant disobedience will come (cf. Leviticus 26:0; Deuteronomy 28:0).

There are two VERBS expressing God's invitation for Judah to dialog with the Divine Judge.

1. come now (lit. “walk,” “go”), BDB 229, KB 246, Qal IMPERATIVE

2. let us reason together, BDB 406, KB 410, Niphal COHORTATIVE, cf. Job 23:7

Notice the result if (first “if” clause, Isaiah 1:19) they respond appropriately (i.e., consent and obey, Isaiah 1:19).

1. sins forgiven (from scarlet to white as snow)

2. sins forgiven (from red to white wool)

3. eat the best of the land

Notice the result (2nd “if” clause, Isaiah 1:20) if they refuse (BDB 549, KB 540, Piel IMPERFECT) and rebel (BDB 598, KB 632, Qal PERFECT). They will be devoured (BDB 37, KB 46, Qal PASSIVE IMPERFECT).

It is interesting that the Sovereign God calls on His covenant people to respond appropriately. This is the mystery of predestination and free will. Both are true. They form the basic orientation of the covenant relationship initiated by God, but requiring a response on the part of His people. The fellowship of Genesis 1-2 is restored in a redeemed, covenant relationship. The effects of the Fall can be reversed (even within time). See Special Topic: COVENANT.

“Though your sins are as scarlet” Remember that dyed material in the ancient world could not be changed (i.e., they had no bleach). God's forgiveness (and forgetfulness) is miraculous but possible (cf. Psalms 103:11-14; Isaiah 38:17; Isaiah 43:25; Isaiah 44:22; Micah 7:19)! When God forgives, He forgets! Wow!

The color red as a metaphor for sin may come from the previous phrase “hands are full of bloodshed” mentioned in Isaiah 1:15.

Isaiah 1:19 There is a wordplay between Isaiah 1:19, “obedience will open the door for abundance” (lit. “eat the best of the land”; the VERB [BDB 37, KB 46, Qal IMPERFECT], which has always been God's will) and the same VERB in Isaiah 1:20 translated “devoured” (Qal PASSIVE IMPERFECT or Pual IMPERFECT), if they do not repent and obey. There are covenant blessings and responsibilities and they are connected (cf. Leviticus 26:0; Deuteronomy 27-29)!

“If you consent and obey” Remember the covenants in the OT are both conditional and unconditional. They are unconditional as far as God's promises, but they are conditional on mankind's response (cf. Luke 6:46; James 2:14-26).

SPECIAL TOPIC: COVENANT

Isaiah 1:20 “Truly, the mouth of the LORD has spoken” God's Word will come to pass (cf. Isaiah 24:3; Isaiah 25:8; Isaiah 40:8; Isaiah 55:10-11; Matthew 5:18; Matthew 24:35; Luke 16:17)!

Believers' hope rests on

1. the unchanging character of God

2. the merciful character of God

3. the trustworthiness of His promises

4. the accuracy of His revelation

Verses 21-23

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 1:21-23 21How the faithful city has become a harlot, She who was full of justice! Righteousness once lodged in her, But now murderers. 22Your silver has become dross, Your drink diluted with water. 23Your rulers are rebels And companions of thieves; Everyone loves a bribe And chases after rewards. They do not defend the orphan, Nor does the widow's plea come before them.

Isaiah 1:21-23 This section deals with Jerusalem of Isaiah's day, the special place where YHWH caused His name to dwell (cf. Deuteronomy 12:5, Deuteronomy 12:11, Deuteronomy 12:14). It has become unfaithful and does not fulfill covenant stipulations (cf. Isaiah 1:23). This section is characterized by Hebrew lament meter or beats, which is another common prophetic literary device (i.e., funeral dirge).

Notice her covenant violations.

1. murderers (cf. Exodus 20:13, premeditated, intentional taking of life, BDB 953, KB 1283, cf. Jeremiah 7:9; Hosea 4:2)

2. rulers as rebels

3. rulers as companions of thieves

4. lovers of bribes (cf. Isaiah 5:23; Exodus 23:6, Exodus 23:8; Deuteronomy 16:19; 1 Samuel 8:3; Psalms 26:10; Amos 5:12; Micah 3:11; Micah 7:3)

5. chasers of rewards

6. not defenders of orphans

7. not supplicants for widows (cf. Exodus 22:21-24; Jeremiah 5:28; Jeremiah 7:6; Jeremiah 22:3; Ezekiel 22:7; Zechariah 7:10)

These are violations of the Mosaic covenant summarized in Deuteronomy. Note that Judah is condemned for covenant violations, not idolatry in this context (unless the word “harlot” in Isaiah 1:21 implies Canaanite fertility worship).

Isaiah 1:21 “faithful” See Special Topic: Believe, Trust, Faith, and Faithfulness in the OT.

Isaiah 1:22 These are two metaphors for Judah's moral corruptness. She was initially pure, but now she has become corrupted by her own choices and actions!

NASB“drink” NKJV, NRSV, TEV, NJB“wine”

This is not the normal term for wine (see Special Topic following). This SINGULAR FEMININE occurs only here. Because of the related cognate root in Akkadian, it may refer to beer, beer that has been diluted (i.e., ruined) by water.

SPECIAL TOPIC: BIBLICAL ATTITUDES TOWARD ALCOHOL AND ALCOHOLISM

Isaiah 1:23

NASB, NKJV, LXX, PESHITTA“rewards” NRSV, TEV, REB“gifts” NJB“presents”

This term (BDB 1024) occurs only here in the OT. BDB says it means “rewards” or “bribe” (parallel to bribe [BDB 1005] in the previous line). The basic root may be related to (1) shalom (BDB 1024), “peace,” “health,” “wholeness,” or (2) “recompense” (BDB 1024, cf. Isaiah 59:18; NIDOTTE, vol. 4, p. 143). In Jerusalem the only peace was for wicked, wealthy, powerful groups in society.

Verses 24-26

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 1:24-26 24Therefore the Lord God of hosts, The Mighty One of Israel, declares, “Ah, I will be relieved of My adversaries And avenge Myself on My foes. 25I will also turn My hand against you, And will smelt away your dross as with lye And will remove all your alloy. 26Then I will restore your judges as at the first, And your counselors as at the beginning; After that you will be called the city of righteousness, A faithful city.”

Isaiah 1:24-26 YHWH speaks of His future plans of restoring His people (cf. v. Isaiah 1:26) after judgment on the wicked leadership.

1. “I will be relieved of My adversaries,” Isaiah 1:24, BDB 636, KB 688, Niphal IMPERFECT used in a COHORTATIVE sense

2. “I will avenge Myself on My foes,” Isaiah 1:24, BDB 667, KB 721, Niphal COHORTATIVE

3. “I will also turn My hand against you,” Isaiah 1:25. BDB 996, KB 1427, Hiphil COHORTATIVE

4. “I will melt away your dross as with lye,” Isaiah 1:25, BDB 864, KB 1057, Qal IMPERFECT used in a COHORTATIVE sense

5. “I will remove all your alloy,” Isaiah 1:25, BDB 693, KB 747, Hiphil COHORTATIVE

6. “I will restore your judges,” Isaiah 1:26, BDB 996, KB 1427 Hiphil COHORTATIVE

7. “I will restore your counselors,” Isaiah 1:26 (same as #6, one VERB, two OBJECTS; these must relate to the Exodus period)

Note that the purpose of judgment is restoration (cf. Isaiah 1:27)!

Isaiah 1:24 Notice the two Divine names in Isaiah 1:24!

1.-2. the Lord, GOD of hosts (adon, YHWH, cf. Psalms 110:1; NIDOTTE, vol. 4, pp.1297-1298)

3. the Mighty One of Israel (cf. Genesis 49:24; Psalms 132:2, Psalms 132:5; Isaiah 49:26; Isaiah 60:16)

Isaiah 1:25-26 “you. . .your” These two verses use FEMININE SINGULARS to denote that YHWH is addressing the unfaithful capital city of Judah, Jerusalem, with all her economic, military, and religious power structures.

As Isaiah 1:19 and 20 used the same VERB in contrasting ways, so too, Isaiah 1:25 and 26 with

1. I will turn My hand against you, BDB 996, KB 1427, Hiphil COHORTATIVE

2. I will restore, BDB 996, KB 1427, Hiphil COHORTATIVE

The same term is used in Isaiah 1:27, “the returnees” (BDB 996, KB 1427, Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE) to describe those touched by God's justice and righteousness.

Isaiah 1:26 “A faithful city” Is this an obvious reversal of the sarcasm of Isaiah 1:21? Jerusalem is no longer “a harlot,” but a restored, faithful woman (i.e., “city” is FEMININE). She has finally become true to her title, faithful to God, faithful to His covenant, and faithful to each other! See Special Topic: The Two “Cities” of Isaiah.

Verses 27-31

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 1:27-31 27Zion will be redeemed with justice And her repentant ones with righteousness. 28But transgressors and sinners will be crushed together, And those who forsake the Lord will come to an end. 29Surely you will be ashamed of the oaks which you have desired, And you will be embarrassed at the gardens which you have chosen. 30For you will be like an oak whose leaf fades away Or as a garden that has no water. 31The strong man will become tinder, His work also a spark. Thus they shall both burn together And there will be none to quench them.

Isaiah 1:27-28 Note the parallelism.

Isaiah 1:1. Isaiah 1:27, the people of the restored city (Isaiah 1:26 lines 3 and 4) will be characterized by “justice” and “righteousness”

Isaiah 1:2. Isaiah 1:28, the one who refuses to repent (turn back) will be “crushed” and “come to an end”

Therefore, there is synonymous parallelism within Isaiah 1:27 and 28, but antithetical parallelism between Isaiah 1:27 and 28.

There is some question about Isaiah 1:27. Does it describe what God is doing and will do or does it describe faithful covenant people? The answer is “yes.” God wants a righteous people to reflect His character to the lost nations. These qualities are objective (God) and subjective (believers).

Isaiah 1:29 This verse describes Judah's idolatry. It could refer to

1. Ba'al, Asherah worship at local shrines (i.e., Asherah was symbolized by a live tree or carved stake, cf. Isaiah 57:5, which also mentions the sacrificing of children to Molech)

2. worship at sacred trees (local gods, cf. Isaiah 65:3; Isaiah 66:17)

3. worship in sacred gardens often associated with a secret place for idolatry. In ANE literature temples and special gardens were often connected.

It must be added that it is possible that the paragraph (Isaiah 1:27-31) refers to the exploitation and materialism of the wealthy classes of Judean society. The references in Isaiah 1:29 are to choice property (i.e., violation of YHWH's special love toward the poor, ostracized, powerless) and not idolatry (i.e., violation of YHWH's uniqueness).

Read the chapter and decide for yourself! Whichever it is, it fails to reflect YHWH's character to the nations!

Isaiah 1:30 “fades” This VERB (BDB 615, KB 663, Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE) is used metaphorically for the fleetingness of human existence (cf. Isaiah 34:4; Isaiah 64:6; Psalms 90:5-6).

Isaiah 1:31 Fire is often associated with judgment or cleansing (i.e., Isaiah 6:13; Jeremiah 4:4; Amos 5:6).

SPECIAL TOPIC: FIRE

NASB“the strong man” NKJV, NRSV, NJB“the strong” LXX, PESHITTA“their strength” REB“the strongest tree” JB“the men of high estate”

This ADJECTIVE (BDB 340) is found only here and Amos 2:9, both in context that relates to trees (cf. Isaiah 1:29, Isaiah 1:30). Possibly the REB is best. It refers to idolatry involving wood, trees, or a garden.

“tinder” This term (BDB 654), in its VERBAL form, usually means “shaken out” (cf. Isaiah 33:9, Isaiah 33:15), but the NOUN, used only twice in the OT, refers to the string/rope (tow) from flax (cf. Judges 16:9).

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. How long did Isaiah serve as the chief prophet for Judah?

2. Why is God spoken of in such anthropomorphic terms?

3. Is God displeased with sacrifice?

4. Define a person's responsibility in salvation, OT and NT.

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Isaiah 1". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/isaiah-1.html. 2021.
 
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