Let's Talk: How Stupid Can You Be-Isaiah 1a

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Isaiah 1:1-9, 10-20, 21-31; Key Verse: Isa 1:18, 3

Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool" (Isa 1:18, ESV). "Let us settle the matter" (NIV). "Let's settle this" (NLT). "Let us discuss this" (HCSB). "Let's argue our case."

"The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner's manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand" (Isa 1:3, NIV). This is funny, yet very serious.

Theme of Isa 1:2-9: Despite the magnitude, severity and gravity of our sins, God is ever gracious to us by preserving for us a remnant (Isa 1:9).

Why study Isaiah?

  • My hope and prayer is that you may be inspiried to take the initiative to read and study Isaiah for your own joy and sanctification, and then find opportunities to share the gems you discovered with others.
  • Consider these 7 benefits of studying Scripture with all your heart and 18 questions for HOT (honest, open, transparent) reflection and contemplation: "An Encouragement to Study Scripture (and Isaiah)."

"Of all the books in the OT, Isaiah is perhaps the richest. Its literary grandeur is unequaled. Its scope is unparalleled. The breadth of its view of God is unmatched. In so many ways it is a book of superlatives. Thus it is no wonder that Isaiah is the most quoted prophet in the NT, and along with Psalms and Deuteronomy, one of the most frequently cited of all OT books. Study of it is an opportunity for unending inspiration and challenge.     ...the book of Isaiah...comes to us as a word from God, a revelation of the inevitable conflict between divine glory and human pride, of the self-destruction that pride must bring, and of the grace of God in restoring that destroyed humanity to himself. To read the book with the open eyes of the spirit is to see oneself, at times all too clearly, but also to see a God whose holiness is made irresistible by his love." John Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, 1986.

"In terms of theological significance, the book of Isaiah is the 'Romans' of the OT." Barry G Webb, The Message of Isaiah, 1996.

"Isaiah is the Paul of the OT in his teaching that faith in God's promises is the single most important reality for the Lord's people: this is the heart of ch. 1-37. He is the 'Hebrews' of the OT in his proposal of faith as the sustaining strength of the Lord's people in life's dark days: this is the heart of ch. 38-55. He is also the James of the OT in his insistence that 'faith works,' proving itself in obedience: thus ch. 56-66." J. Alec Motyer, Isaiah, 1999.

What Bach’s first biographer said about his music applies to Isaiah’s prophecy:

"[Bach’s music] is not merely agreeable, like other composers,’ but transports us to the regions of the ideal. It does not arrest our attention momentarily but grips us the stronger the oftener we listen to it so that, after a thousand hearings, its treasures are still unexhausted and yield fresh beauties to excite our wonder."

Introduction: Isaiah means "Yahweh (is) salvation." ("The Lord is salvation" or "The salvation of the Lord.") It is one of the longest and most important books in the Bible. It is widely considered the deepest, richest and most theologically significant book in the OT, unparalleled in theological breadth, spanning from creation to new heavens and earth. Isaiah is the Paul of the OT, the Shakespeare of the prophets, and the "fifth gospel." The NT quotes Isaiah 66 x (alluded to >85 times), surpassed only by Psalms (79x). Isaiah's ministry was for 50 years from 740-690 B.C during the reigns of four kings (Isa 1:1).

What can we learn from IsaiahThe three most important things in all of life.

  1. Who God is.
  2. Who you are.
  3. How to live the life God intended for you to live.

Theme and title for the book of Isaiah: The Broken Heart of God (Isa 6:8). [Other titles: A Savior will suffer to save you; Only God saves; The Lord is salvation; God preserves a remnant; A suffering Messiah/Savior; Behold the beauty of the Lord; God loves and hopes as his heart breaks; God saves sinners; God judges and saves; Your God reigns; I am God and there is no other; On eagles wings.] {Some key verses of Isaiah: Isa 6:8; 12:2; 45:22; 48:11; 53:5.}


  1. Judgment (1-39): The Assyrian period.
    1. The Holy Judge (1-12).
    2. The Sovereign King (13-39).
  2. Salvation (40-55): The Babylonian period.
    1. The Suffering Servant (40-55).
    2. The Final Conqueror (56-66).

Big ideas (Isaiah 1:1-31):

  1. God is gracious. He does not treat us as our sins deserve (Ps 103:10).
  2. God is humble. He takes the initiative even though we are in the wrong (Isa 1:18).
  3. There are always witnesses to our sin, even when we sin privately (Isa 1:2a).
  4. Our most urgent need is always a new self-awareness through the conviction of sin (1:2-9).
  5. Conviction of sin leads to repentance before God and man (1:10-20). A hardened heart blames others for our own sins (Mt 7:1-5).
  6. Sin makes us stupid. It makes our pets appear smarter than us (Isa 1:3).
  7. Religious activity does not necessarily please God (Isa 1:10-15). Beware of hypocrisy and duplicity in yourself.
  8. A godly life always includes justice and righteousness by caring for the needy: the fatherless and the widows (Isa 1:17, 23).

Study Questions: Read Isaiah 1:1-31 (1-9, 10-20, 21-31)

1:1-9 (national failure): Sin. "The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner's manger, but...my people do not understand." (Isa 1:3, NIV).

  1. What is Isaiah about (1:1)? Why is it a vision that Isaiah saw and not a message that he heard? Who does it concern?
  2. Why call on the heavens and the earth (1:2a; Dt 30:19; 32:1, 4–6)? Note the verb used to describe Israel’s attitude toward God in 1:2b and 66:24, the last verse of Isaiah. How is rebellion more than mere disobedience?
  3. Why is 1:3 rather comical and yet very serious (Dt 32:6)?
  4. See the verbs in 1:4 as a further explanation of rebellion and its effects.
  5. What do 1:5–8 describe? How is Isaiah making his point?
  6. There are two important titles for Yahweh in 1:1-9. What are they (1:4, 9)? What is their significance?
  7. Why the reference to Sodom and Gomorrah in 1:9?

1:10–20 (religious failure): Repentance. "I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly." (Isa 1:13).

  1. What are some reasons the prophet may have brought up 1:10-15 at this point?
  2. If God commanded rituals in the law, why is he angry when they performed them, and even called them “rebels”? What is the danger with religious ritual (1 Sam 15:22; Jer 7:21-23; Hos 6:6; Am 5:21–24; Mic 6:6–8)? Why does God not accept their worship and prayers (1:13, 15 explicitly states their problem)? How does all this relate to us?
  3. What 9 thunderous corrective actions are commanded and demanded (16-17)?
    1. your heart (16a) [inwardly - 2 commands].
    2. your life (16b-17a) [outwardly - 3 commands].
    3. your society (17b) [socially - 4 commands]
  4. What comforting promise does God offer regarding their sins (1:18)? How is this counterintuitive and remarkable? What do you learn about God's grace? Does righteous living (1:16–17) produce forgiveness (1:18)? Why or why not?
  5. What are two alternate courses of actions and their respective consequences (19-20; Dt 30:15-20)?

1:21–31 (social failure): Redemption. "they refuse to defend the cause of orphans or fight for the rights of widows" (Isa 1:23, NLT).

  1. What are the contrasts in 1:21-22? What change occurred with Jerusalem?
  2. What is the problem with her leaders (Isa 1:23, 17; 3:12-15; Jer 21:12)?
  3. Note the introduction of a third title for God (1:24). What is its impact? Who are the “enemies” of Yahweh (Jer 21:5)?
  4. 1:25–27 express a key truth of Isaiah. What is God’s intent when he brings destruction on his people?
  5. What is the relationship of 1:28-31 to 1:25-27? Why do you think Isaiah ends on this note after the promises 1:26-27 (a reversal of vv. 21–23)? How would God deal with the penitent (27)? The sinners (28)?
  6. What illustration did God use to describe the end result (29-31)? What do you think is the significance of trees?

Isaiah 1 is holding before us a mirror, so that we can see ourselves more realistically. The rest of Isaiah shows how God saves people like us, so that we become the New Jerusalem. But Isaiah begins the good news of the gospel with the bad news of the gospel, because it's when we place ourselves under God's truth and judgment that we experience his mercy, grace, forgiveness and salvation.

Just as Isaiah 1 introduces the book, Isa 1:2 sets the tone for Isaiah 1: "they have rebelled against me." The verb "rebelled" also appears in the last verse of Isaiah (Isa 66:24). The whole prophetic vision of Isaiah is framed within these two appearances of "rebelled." Rebellion against God is our problem. But God saves rebels (Isa 45:22). And true worship is for rebels like us to humbly come clean before our Lord, the Holy One, in repentance and faith. Isaiah 1 will be preached in three parts.

  1. Part I, Conviction of Sin (1-9): How Stupid Can You Be.
  2. Part II, Repentance (10-20): Don't Burden Me With Your Church Activities.
  3. Part III, Redemption (21-31): Care For What and Whom I Care For.

I. How Stupid Can You Be (1:2-9, 3): Conviction of Sin

"The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner's manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand" (Isa 1:3, NIV).

  1. The broken heart of God (2-4).
  2. The broken strength of the church (5-8).
  3. The unbroken grace of God (9).

When we break the heart of God by our rebellion and sins the people we hurt are ourselves and those we love. Only by God's mercy, the unbroken grace of God prevails no matter how much we break God's heart by our rebellion and sins.

What is conviction of sin? It is not an oppressive spirit of uncertainty or paralyzing guilt feelings. Conviction of sin is the lance of the divine Surgeon piercing the infected soul, releasing the pressure, letting the infection pour out. Conviction of sin is a health-giving injury. Conviction of sin is the Holy Spirit being kind to us by confronting us with the light we don’t want to see and the truth we’re afraid to admit and the guilt we prefer to ignore. Conviction of sin is the severe love of God overruling our compulsive dishonesty, our willful blindness, our favorite excuses. Conviction of sin is the violent sweetness of God opposing the sins lying comfortably undisturbed in our lives. Conviction of sin is the merciful God declaring war on the false peace we settle for. Conviction of sin is our escape from malaise to joy, from attending church to worship, from faking it to authenticity. Conviction of sin, with the forgiveness of Jesus pouring over our wounds, is life.” Ray Ortland, Isaiah: God Saves Sinners.

There is no greater tragedy in the universe than his own children in rebellion against him (Isa 1:2b).

To forsake the Lord is to treat him as the last resort rather than as the fountainhead. To despise God is to disrelish him, to put a discount on God while valuing other things. And that condition of the heart estranges us from God.

This is why theft, murder, terrorism, and other outward sins are mere flea bites compared with the mega-sin of forsaking and despising God. But the latter is common, even in the church.

This man has been so clobbered, there isn’t a square inch on his body not sore and bleeding (Isa 1:5-6). But he doesn’t feel it. So he keeps going back for more punishment and gets beaten to a pulp again and again and never learns his lesson.

The biggest obstacle to our (the church's) spiritual progress is that we feel healthy, even successful.

Isaiah’s other image of our need for God is an invaded country that does not see its own humiliation (Isa 1:7-8).

It’s a miracle that the church survives at all. But it is not because God is weak. He is the omnipotent “Lord of hosts” (Lord Almighty). The church survives because God saves sinners (Isa 1:9; 45:22).


  1. Motyer, J. Alec. Isaiah. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. IVP. Downers Grove, IL, USA. 1999.
  2. Webb, Barry G. The Message of Isaiah: On Eagles' Wings. The Bible Speaks Today. IVP. Downers Grove, IL, USA. 1997.
  3. Kidner, Derek. New Bible Commentary. IVP. Downers Grove, IL, USA. 1994.
  4. Ortlund Jr., Raymond C. Isaiah: God Saves Sinners. Preaching The Word. Crossway books. Wheaton, IL, USA. 1995. (Book50 audio sermons on Isaiah by Ray Ortlund.)
  5. Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae: Isaiah.
  6. Isaiah: Title of each chapter and commentary. Matthew Henry Complete Commentary: Isaiah.

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