Let's Talk: Don't Burden Me With Your Church Activities-Isaiah 1b

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Isaiah 1:10-20; 13, 18

"Come now let's reason together..." (Isa 1:18) "Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—I cannot bear your worthless assemblies" (Isa 1:13, NIV).

"I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly" (Isa 1:13b, ESV).

"I cannot stand iniquity with a festival" (Isa 1:13b, HCSB).

"...they are all sinful and false. I want no more of your pious meetings" (Isa 1:13b, NLT).

Theme: Worship with iniquity or without repentance or justice for the oppressed displeases God who says, "Your hands are full of blood" (Isa 1:15, NIV).

Key question: Why is God so angry and upset with religious rituals when he commanded rituals in Leviticus?

Answer: Ritual is intended to be symbolic of our (inner) heart condition. The real indicator of our heart condition is how we treat one another, especially those who cannot repay us!

Recap--How Stupid Can You Be! This was my intentionally provocative title for Isaiah 1:1-9. Isaiah claims that even dumb animals like the ox and donkey know better than to behave like this (Isa 1:3). Isaiah used farm animals that the listeners could identify with to make this logical point from common experience more persuasive. This likely drew a smile from his listeners because almost everyone in his audience could tell stories about being unable to handle their stubborn ox or their stupid idiot donkey. Yet they all knew that these dumb animals were smart enough to realize that if they wanted to eat they had to come home and behave...at least when they were hungry. Although they were sometimes unwilling to submit to authority (like God's people and the church), they maintained their relationship with their owner. But in sharp contrast, the dumber Israelites who were "my people" did not seem to "know" that they should maintain their covenant relationship with God. Are there not Christians today who make unwise willful and sinful decisions--sometimes repeatedly--that make their pets look like genuises?

Isaiah 1 is an awfully bleak chapter. It is a harsh indictment that expresses God's denouncement not only of Judah and Jerusalem, but also of virtually every civilization in history. Because of our rebellion against our Creator, mankind truly has no hope apart from the magnanimous generosity and grace of God (Isa 1:9, 18).

  • Isaiah 1 is God's severe indictment and denouncement of his people nationally (2-9), religiously (10-20) and socially (21-31).
  • In 1:2-9 God's people reveal themselves to be stupider than their farm animals who know their master (Isa 1:3).
  • Despite bluntly confronting them with their sins, God graciously preserved a remnant for them (Isa 1:9).

What does authentic worship require? Isa 1:10-20 addresses worship, repentance and an active concern for justice for the oppressed. In essence, God says to his people, "Worship without repentance and worship without justice and concern for the oppressed is unacceptible."

Quotes to consider:

"The curse of the godless man can sound more pleasant to God's ears than the Hallelujah of the pious." Luther, from Life Together, Bonhoeffer. God is not necessarily pleased with Christians who praise him just in church.

"The ego likes to think it is devout and tries to hide behind a variety of religious facades. The spiritual journey is designed to put to rest these facades." Thomas Keating. Every Christians sanctification necessarily involves overcoming hypocrisy and a lack of authenticity.

"We transmit the gospel more by who we are and how we love than by any other means." Thomas Keating.

“If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95% of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95% of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference.” A. W. Tozer.

"Just look for a moment at our daily routine. In general we are very busy people. We have many meetings to attend, many visits to make, many services to lead. Our calendars are filled with appointments, our days and weeks filled with engagements, and our years filled with plans and projects. There is seldom a period in which we do not know what to do, and we move through life in such a distracted way that we do not even take the time and rest to wonder if any of the things we think, say, or do are worth thinking, saying or doing. We simply go along with the many "musts" and "oughts" that have been handed on to us, and we live with them as if they were authentic translations of the Gospel of our Lord." Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart: Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry.

"What is repentance? Repentance is not morbid introspection. It is not self-punishment. True repentance is a privilege, given by the Holy Spirit, opening our eyes not only to how costly our sins are but, more searchingly, how evil our sins are. Repentance is not afraid of wholesome self-suspicion, because it feels an urgency to be right with God at any cost. Repentance is a power giving us traction for newness of life. It isn’t piecemeal or selective, doctoring up this problem or that. As Martin Luther taught in the first of his 95 Theses, “The whole life of believers should be penitence.” Repentance is an honest new self renouncing the shifty old self. And, as Isaiah teaches here, repentance turns from mere forms of worship, whatever they are, to authenticity with God." Ray Ortland, Isaiah: God Saves Sinners.

After presenting the Holy God to his uncomprehending people/the church (2-9), he exposes the hypocrisy of their worship (church) in 4 steps:

  1. Confrontation (10).
  2. Accusation (11-15).
  3. Invitation (16-18).
  4. Decision (19-20).

Structurally, this passage (1:10-20) falls into three interrelated topics (Gary Smith, Isaiah 1-39, New American Commentary):

  1. What displeases God (10-15): Religious (church) ceremonies.
  2. What pleases God (16-17): Ethical purity.
  3. How to resolve our sins with God (18-20): Listen and choose between #1 and #2.

In 1:10-20 Isaiah lays out 2 alternative means of relating to God and the challenge to choose between the two (John N. Oswalt, Isaiah 1-39):

  1. Through religious ceremonies performed in manipulative ways (10-15).
  2. Through a life of ethical purity (16-17).
  3. A challenge to choose between these two ways (18-20).

I. What Displeases God (Isa 1:10-15): Religious ceremonies and habitual hypocritical church activities

Two things displeased God:

  1. Worship without repentance (Isa 1:13, 15).
  2. Worship without justice for the oppressed (Isa 1:17, 23; 3:13).

In Isa 1:10 the theme changes dramatically to focus on their hypocritical temple worship, which would be equivalent to shallow or superficial or consumeristic worship in the church today.

Why did Isaiah confront them by addressing their worship in the temple? It is very possible that Isaiah's audience objected to Isaiah's accusations by insisting that they were obeying the Bible by offering sacrifices and keeping their religious ceremonies and traditions as prescribed in the law (Torah/instructions). Thus, God should not punish them but bless them. Isa 1:10-15 would be a fitting answer to such an objection.

Isaiah's rebuke and accusation (740-690 B.C.) is not entirely unique to him since some phrases resemble other prophetic condemnations:

  1. "But Samuel replied: 'Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrificesas much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice,and to heed is better than the fat of rams'" (1 Sam 15:22). ~ 1000 B.C.
  2. “‘This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Go ahead, add your burnt offerings to your other sacrifices and eat the meat yourselves! (Jer 7:21-23). Jeremiah began his ministry in 627 B.C. Ministered to Judah afther the fall of northern Israel and as Assyria's power declined and waned and Babylonion power increased.
  3. "For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings" (Hos 6:6). 760-722 B.C. Ministered to northern Israel.
  4. "I hate, I despise your religious festivals;your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. 23 Away with the noise of your songs!I will not listen to the music of your harps" (Am 5:21-24). 760 B.C. Ministered to northern Israel.
  5. "With what shall I come before the Lordand bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercyand to walk humbly with your God" (Mic 6:6-8). 740-687 B.C. Ministered to Judah, southern Israel.

These frontal and blunt and direct confrontations, condemnations and accusations were not a rejection of the sacrificial system of worship but of the inadequacy of repetitious religious acts without adequate or appropriate:

  • confessions of sin,
  • rejection of evil, and a
  • commitment to live according to God's revealed standards of worship and justice.

Many commentators believe that God was simply unhappy with a ritualistic religion that had no true heart relationship with God. Thus, their sacrifices were false, abominations, and detestable like the pagan practices instituted by Manasseh (2 Ki 21:2, 11). In strong emotional terms God reveals that his very essence (his soul) hates ["I hate with all my being" (Isa 1:14, NIV)] their religious activities. God will not hear their prayers (1:15) because their hands were full of blood (1:21; 2 Ki 21:16). Their ceremonial worship and even their prayers were worthless if it was not accompanied by active concern for justice for the oppressed (17, 23).

II. What Pleases God (Isa 1:16-17): Ethical purity, which includes a concern for justice and the poor and oppressed

Isaiah confronted his people with nine thunderous imperatives, commands and corrective actions. These commands involve their:

  • heart (16a). 2 commands required that they change/repent inwardly.
  • life (16b-17a). 3 commands required that they change/repent outwardly.
  • society (17b). 4 commands required that they change/repent socially.

III. How to Resolve Our Sins with God (Isa 1:18-20): God's invitation and challenge to choose between religious ceremonies and ethical purity

This requires that one:

  • Hears God's gracious invitation and promise (Isa 1:18).
  • Makes a decision and a choice (Isa 1:19-20).

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. Why might Isaiah have brought up 1:10-15 at this point? What can God not endure (11-14)? Why?
  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?

References:

  1. Smith, Gary V. Isaiah 1-39. B & H Publishing Group. Nashville, TN, USA. 2007.
  2. Motyer, J. Alec. Isaiah. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. IVP. Downers Grove, IL, USA. 1999.
  3. Webb, Barry G. The Message of Isaiah: On Eagles' Wings. The Bible Speaks Today. IVP. Downers Grove, IL, USA. 1997.
  4. Kidner, Derek. New Bible Commentary. IVP. Downers Grove, IL, USA. 1994.
  5. 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.)
  6. Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae: Isaiah.
  7. Isaiah: Title of each chapter and commentary. Matthew Henry Complete Commentary: Isaiah.

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