posted on Nov, 21 2014 @ 05:02 PM
The first chapter of Isaiah sets the tone for the rest of the book.
The prophet is diagnosing a sickness.
Unlike a medical doctor, he pins down the root cause before examining the symptoms.
The root cause is the disobedience of Israel.
The people are sons who have rebelled against their father.
They have abandoned and even despised the Holy One of Israel.
In their disobedience, they deal corruptly and they are laden with iniquity. (vv2-4)
The symptoms of the disease can be found in the state of the nation.
Metaphorically, the body is sick and weak from head to toe.
There are bruises and sores and bleeding wounds which don’t receive any kind of treatment.
What this means literally is that the land has been invaded.
The cities have been burned with fire and the country has been left desolate.
Only Jerusalem has been left intact, when every other place has been laid low. (vv5-9)
They are like Sodom and Gomorrah, both in their fate, and in the conduct which led up to it.
God is angry with the endless of routine of ritual.
The multitude of sacrifices makes him weary; all the blood and fat of rams, bulls, lambs, and goats, all the incense, and the recurring cycles of
“new moons and appointed feasts”.
“When you come before me, who requires of you this trampling of my courts?” (vv10-14)
Jerusalem might have been puzzled by this question, thinking that God himself had required the trampling and the sacrifices.
Yet he clearly denies any such intention.
We know from the story in 2 Samuel ch.7 that God did not ask his people for a Temple; building a Temple was something they wanted to do, and he
I think the same would apply to the sacrifices in the Temple; he did not require them but accepted his people’s willingness to make them, knowing
that it was part of the culture of the time. At the most he provided instructions to make sure they were carried out in an orderly way.
We must note that he’s not telling them to stop coming before him; he just wants them to come before him without the “trampling” of meaningless
I have suggested before that sacrifice has no value for the Biblical God, except as a symbol of what he really wants from his people, namely trust and
Therefore sacrifice combined with disobedience to his commands is a contradiction in terms.
When he said that “he cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly”, that implies that he hates the combination of the two, and a solemn assembly
without the iniquity would have been more tolerable.
What he means by “iniquity” is the way they treat each other, especially the most vulnerable (the fatherless and the widows).
He means the corruption, the loss of righteousness, which leads to injustice and murder.
He will not accept sacrifices from their hands, because their hands are “full of blood”. (vv21-23)
There are two possible ways of curing the disease.
Firstly, they can wash themselves.
This is a metaphor, meaning that they should
“Cease to do evil, learn to do good,
Seek justice and correct oppression”.
Their sinful state, dyed red with blood, can be washed to a perfect whiteness by a complete change of heart. (vv16-19)
The alternative is that the Lord will turn his hand against them.
They will be consumed, their “dross” will be melted away (changing metaphors, for the moment) until only the pure metal is left. (vv24-25)
His instrument, in the first place, will be the sword, which will devour them.
This is the connection between the root cause of the disease (forsaking their obedience to the Lord) and the symptoms which have presented themselves
(foreigners burning their cities and desolating the land).
The invasion there described is only a foretaste of what will happen if they continue to be defiant.
One way or another, the Lord will get his way in the end.
They will have just leadership once more, and their city can then be called “the faithful city”.
Zion will have been redeemed by God’s justice, and by the righteousness which belongs to those who are repentant. (vv26-27)
We ought to think about what this might mean for the church, who are God’s people Israel under the New Covenant.
Certainly the church ought to take the point that ritual is no substitute for obedience.
From an early stage in its history, the church has had a taste for ritual observances.
The regular ceremonies of Israel find a parallel in the cycle of “the Church’s year”.
The Catholic tradition, in particular, has built up a an elaborate system of ritual, both corporate and individual, about much of which God might well
say “I never asked for this”.
But the same criticism would apply to any kind of worship that isn’t associated with what God really wants;
“Who requires of you this endless chain of choruses?”
So if the church suffers from the disease of disobedience, it needs to take thought for the curing of the disease.
One option is repentance, a change of heart which will bring them back into alignment with God’s will.
Or the alternative, as described in this passage, might still be applicable; the church is consumed and the dross is melted away.
That seems to be part of what is happening in Revelation, when the church is subjected to “the nations”, who are allowed to “trample over” the
holy city and the court outside the central temple (Revelation ch11 vv1-2).
That echoes the “trampling of my courts” which God complains about in this chapter.
The redemption of the “faithful Zion” is then deferred until the end of the book.
The overall message of the Bible, like the message of this chapter, is that God will get his way, in the long term, and unite himself with the kind of
people that he wants.