Isaiah 1:21-31; 18, 23, 27
"Come now let us reason together..." "Your rulers...do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow's case does not come before them" "Zion will be redeemed by justice, her repentant ones by righteousness" [HCSB] (Isa 1:18a, 23, 27).
Theme: Judgment is not for destruction but with the hope of redemption (Isa 1:27). The evidence of redemption is that we care for the oppressed and the disadvantaged (Isa 1:23).
Recap of Don't Burden Me With Your Church Activities (Isa 1:10-20): God is grieved and displeased when we worship him in church with iniquity in our hearts (Isa 1:13b). But despite our hypocrisy, God extends to us unlimited grace (Isa 1:18). Praise and thank God for his immeasurable grace.
Overview of Isaiah chapter 1 (1-9, 10-20, 21-31): God's threatened court case against his people.
I. Isaiah 1a: How Stupid Can You Be (1:1-9, 3): Conviction. [National failure: Rebellion. God addresses the nation.] God's accusations of rebellion against his people (Judah).
"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).
- God's broken heart (2-3): God's heart breaks because of his children's rebellion.
- Our broken life (4-8): When we rebel against God, we become broken ourselves.
- God's unbroken grace (9): Despite our rebellion, God's grace is unfailing.
II. Isaiah 1b: Don't Burden Me With Your Church Activities (1:10-20, 13): Repentance. [Religious failure: Hypocrisy and corrupt inauthentic worship. God addresses the religious people.] God's call for repentance and reconciliation, not useless worship. God's accusations against "religious" people.
"Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me...I cannot bear your worthless assemblies" (Isa 1:13, NIV). "I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly" (Isa 1:13, ESV). "I cannot stand iniquity with a festival" (Isa 1:13, HCSB). "...they are all sinful and false. I want no more of your pious meetings" (Isa 1:13, NLT).
- What displeases God (10-15): Hypocrisy. Religious (church) rituals and ceremonies. Worship without repentance. Worship without justice for the oppressed.
- What pleases God (16-17): Repentance. Ethical purity. Notice 9 thunderous imperative exhortations, commands and corrective actions.
- How to please God (18-20): Listen and choose. Hear God's gracious invitation and promise (18) and make the right decision (19-20).
III. Isaiah 1c: Care for What and Whom I Care For (1:21-31, 23): Redemption. [Social failure: Injustice. God addresses the city.] God's purification of Judah's leaders. God's accusations against the city Jerusalem.
"Your rulers...do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow's case does not come before them" "Zion will be redeemed by justice, her repentant ones by righteousness" [HCSB] (Isa 1:23, 27).
- Corruption (21-23) and Purification (24-26).
- Redemption (27) or Destruction (28-31).
I. Corruption (21-23) and Purification (24-26)
1:21-26 are divided into a series of accusations of sinfulness against the leaders of Jerusalem (21-23) and God's judgment to purify the city (24-26). This judgment against Jerusalem is in four steps:
- it was faithful to God (21).
- it is now unfaithful (21-23).
- God will purge the evil city (24-25).
- the city will again be faithful (26).
Isaiah lamenting his sorrow over the sinful degeneration of Jerusalem (Isa 1:21-23) is similar to his lament over the sinfulness of his people (Isa 1:4-9). He begins by fondly remembering the time when the city was characterized by faithfulness to God (perhaps as in Hezekiah's era). The lament moves from praising the past to lamenting the present--characterized by prostitution and murder, as Manasseh's era may be in view (2 Ki 21:16). Prostitution and harlotry are metaphors for worshipping idols (1:29-30), referring to pagan worship. They went from being faithful to the principles of justice and relationships of righteousness to no longer being faithful to them. Oh, how the holy have fallen!
Impurities degenerate valuable silver into worthless waste metal and expensive sparkling wine into cheap watered-down booze (Isa 1:22). So do impurities pollute and degenerate the faithful city and her leaders (Isa 1:23a): the love of money and all the perks that come with money: power, prestige and control over others. This invariably includes oppressing the poor widows and orphans (Isa 1:16, 23b).
God, "therefore," was determined to purify the city (Isa 1:24-26). God, the sovereign Lord, the Divine Warrior, the All-Powerful One (Isa 1:24) is able to do whatever he plans to do (Ps 115:3; 135:6). God's purposes are threefold:
- to satisfy his holiness (Isa 1:24b),
- to remove impurity (Isa 1:25), and
- to restore his city of righteousness (Isa 1:26).
Sin, the offensive matter, must be dealt with before a relationship with God is possible. God desires to reverse the deterioration of Isa 1:1:22, saying, "I will thoroughly purge away your dross" (Isa 1:1:25). The results of God's miraculous work of grace will be a restored "City of Righteousness" as at the first (possibly a return to the era of a new Davidic king) and righteous leaders. This promise encourages anyone who suffers through sinful and selfish leaders who do not care about justice or God. A day will come when God will transform this world, remove all sin, replace all bad and evil leaders, and rule his kingdom in righteousness and justice (Isa 1:26-27). This passage is also a warning to every leader. Every leader will be held accountable for how they (we/you) lead the people God has called them (us) to serve (Isa 1:23).
II. Redemption (27) or Destruction (28-31)
Isa 1:27-31 draw the audience to the point of decision about the choices they must make. Their choice will have eternal consequences: they will either enjoy God's wonderful redemption (Isa 1:27) or suffer disgrace and destruction from God (Isa 1:28-31). There will be no false hopes based on sacrificial offerings, political privilege in government, or a person's national origin. Zion's future is totally dependent on God's grace and their repentance.
God does not desire to judge or destroy anyone (Ez 18:32). God's wonderful plan for Zion, his holy place of dwelling, would be to be filled with repentant and redeemed people (Isa 1:27). They are those who act justly toward the poor and oppressed, toward the widows and orphans (Isa 1:17, 23; Mic 6:8). In light of the usage of "justice" and "righteousness in Isaiah 55-66 (Isa 51:6, 8; 56:1; 59:9, 16-17; 61:10-11; 63:1), justice connotes God's vindication and salvation. It focuses on God as redeemer and the only source of hope for salvation. This is a stark contrast with the unrepentant people who put their hope in idols of wood (Isa 1:29-31).
The future of those who forsake God (Isa 1:28) is that they will be broken and will perish. This happens to all who choose to worship idols (Isa 1:29-31) rather than committing their lives to the redeeming power of God. The substitution of worship of the creation for worship of the Creator is foolish. The gods Baal and Asherah will only disappoint the people because plants and trees wither, dry up, and die when they have no water (Isa 1:30). The failure to sustain life demonstrates the powerlessness of these gods; they are nothing. Those who trust and delight in these gods will feel disgrace and shame because they foolishly chose to worship false gods (Isa 1:29). In the end, they will realize that they were deceived to put their trust in something that has no power to nourish or protect them. Their humiliation will be bitter, for God revealed the truth to them long ago, but they rejected it.
"The mighty one" (Isa 1:31) refers to the great oak tree, but metaphorically also pictures the worshipers of these trees. They will not look like solid oak wood since these products ignite easily, burn quickly, and create an intense fire that is impossible to extinguish (Isa 66:14-15, 24).
The message of Isaiah 1 serves as an introduction to the rest of Isaiah. The message of Isaiah demarcates people into two groups:
- the rebellious people who forsake God.
- the redeemed people who trust God.
Isaiah's goal is to open the eyes and heart of both groups to:
- God's view of sinners who continue in iniquity and rebel against God (Isa 1:2-8, 11-15, 21-23);
- God's offer of grace (Isa 1:18);
- the seriousness of God's judgment on those who rebel/do not worship God (Isa 1:20, 28-31).
Isaiah wants his listeners to make a choice, take a stand, make a decision by ask ourselves questions such as these:
- Is there a spirit of rebellion in you (Isa 1:2; 66:24)?
- Does justice and care for the oppressed characterize your Christian life (Isa 1:17, 23)?
- Is your heart attitude and practice of worship acceptable to God with no hint of deceptive rituals (Isa 1:11-15)?
- Do you need to ask God for forgiveness of any particular sin (Isa 1:18)?
- Do you understand the consequence of not following God (Isa 1:20, 28-31)?
- Are you willing to brutally and honestly examine your own heart (Isa 1:16-20; Jer 17:10)?
- Do you think that because you keep some identity as a Christian that you're basically fine (like the people in Isaiah's day)?
- Does God's holiness and his standard of justice and righteousness uncover a veneer of piety and religiosity hiding a life of selfishness, rebellion, and unwillingness to trust God?
There are two ways to live and two destinations. All paths do not lead to God. Isaiah 1 presents choices that everyone of us must face as it did for the people during Isaiah's time:
- Being God's children or rebelling against God (Isa 1:2-3).
- Continuing to receive God's punishment or having the wars stop (Isa 1:5-9).
- Offering prayers and sacrifices that please God or having God hide his face and reject useless ritual (Isa 1:11-15).
- Making efforts to remove the stain and guilt of sin or allowing that stain to bring a curse (Isa 1:18-20).
- Acting like faithful and righteous people or behaving like harlots and murderers (Isa 1:21).
- Accepting God's redemption or being burnt up with fire in disgrace (Isa 1:27-31).
Isaiah 1:1-31 Bible 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).
- 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?
- 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?
- Why is 1:3 rather comical and yet very serious (Dt 32:6)?
- How does 1:4 further explanin rebellion and its effects?
- What do 1:5–8 describe? How is Isaiah making his point?
- There are two important titles for Yahweh in 1:1-9. What are they (1:4, 9)? What is their significance?
- 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).
- Why might Isaiah have brought up 1:10-15 at this point? What can God not endure (11-14)? Why?
- 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?
- What 9 thunderous corrective actions are commanded and demanded (16-17)?
- your heart (16a) [inwardly - 2 commands].
- your life (16b-17a) [outwardly - 3 commands].
- your society (17b) [socially - 4 commands]
- 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?
- 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).
- What are the contrasts in 1:21-22? What change occurred with Jerusalem?
- What is the problem with her leaders (Isa 1:23, 17; 3:12-15; Jer 5:30-31; 21:12; 22:16)?
- Note the introduction of a third title for God (1:24). What is its impact? Who are the “enemies” of Yahweh (Jer 21:5)?
- 1:25–27 express a key truth of Isaiah. What is God’s intent when he brings destruction on his people (Jer 31:20)?
- 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)?
- What illustration did God use to describe the end result (29-31)? What do you think is the significance of trees?
- Isaiah Session 1 by John Oswalt - Isaiah 1 (1 hr 10 min video lecture, 2012 at Francis Asbury Society).
- Smith, Gary V. Isaiah 1-39. The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture. B & H Publishing Group. Noshville, TN. 2007.
- Motyer, J. Alec. Isaiah. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. IVP. Downers Grove, IL, USA. 1999.
- Webb, Barry G. The Message of Isaiah: On Eagles' Wings. The Bible Speaks Today. IVP. Downers Grove, IL, USA. 1997.
- Kidner, Derek. New Bible Commentary. IVP. Downers Grove, IL, USA. 1994.
- Ortlund Jr., Raymond C. Isaiah: God Saves Sinners. Preaching The Word. Crossway books. Wheaton, IL, USA. 1995. (Book. 50 audio sermons on Isaiah by Ray Ortlund.)