Paul tells us in Romans 8:8 “those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” In other words, unsaved sinners can do nothing that is meritorious in the eyes of a holy God. That means that Israel’s dead religion is completely unacceptable, both today and 2,700 years ago in the days of Isaiah the prophet. Today’s blog (and those that follow in the near future) are going to take us back to the beginning of Isaiah’s prophetic ministry with selections from my Isaiah manuscript. Today’s blog comes from Isaiah chapter 1 where God rebukes Israel for its dead religion (Sorry for the weird formatting issues below).

One way of dividing up this chapter is into three courtroom scenes:  (1)the court’s charge:  God hates dead religion, (vv. 1-15), (2) the court’s mandate:  Recognize the difference between dead religion and genuine righteousness (vv. 16-20), and (3) the court’s sentence:  Israel’s dead religion demands swift and severe punishment (vv. 21-31).

First scene:  The court’s charge:  God hates dead religion (vv. 1-17)

God tells His people that they have abandoned Him, and God will not accept their dead religion.  Judgment is coming, but His true desire is that they would turn back to Him.

There are futures, destinies, represented in every worship setting. There are decisions that are being made, and that will be made in the days to come, represented in the congregation. And all of those lives, all of those destinies, the outcome of all of those decisions, hinge on what their relationship to God is and will be.

That is what we see in this section of Nahum. In this first chapter we see a burdened prophet, we see a foolish nation, we see a comforted people, and standing at the center of the picture is an awesome God—the only true and living God. And this God, the true and living God, is making Himself known through a prophet named Nahum. God is declaring Himself. He is declaring His nature and character. He is declaring His abilities. He is declaring His commitments. And, as a result of who He is, and what He does, and what He will not do, He is declaring the current condition and the future destinies of all the others in this scene.

As I already noted, the same is true for every individual and every situation that exists in this world. Who you are as a person, what your current condition is, what your future is going to be, the way you’re going to live, and the choices you’re going to make, are all determined by what your relationship is, and will be, to the God of the Bible.

When Nahum records this prophecy, it is sometime between 663 and 626 BC. It is either during the reign of Manasseh or Josiah in Judah. The cruel and fierce Assyrian empire rules the world. They have already conquered Samaria and the northern kingdom in 722 BC. They invaded Judah in 701 BC, and when they tried to take Jerusalem they suffered the massive loss of 185,000 men due to God miraculously saving the city (2 Kings 19:35). But the Assyrians have recovered from that. They are still strong, and they are still feared by all the peoples of the world, when God tells them what their future will be.


God This is a prophetic message from God to man (v. 1)

God’s message comes through the human source called Isaiah, but the reality is that this is a prophetic vision from the Lord Himself.  We will first consider the divine character of this message.

The heavenly source of the vision.  Isaiah identifies his message as a vision.  A “vision” (chazon) can refer to something seen with physical eyes (cf. 33:20; 57:8), but in prophetic contexts it refers to perception in the human mind through the working of God’s Spirit (cf. Obad. 1:1; Nah. 1:1), sometimes in theophanies (Exod. 24:11; Job 19:26, 27; Pss. 11:7; 17:15).

The human source of the vision.  Some traditions suggested that Amoz was the brother of King Amaziah, the Father of Uzziah, but this is not certain.  Isaiah had access to the royal court, suggesting that he was of the family of David.

The focus of the vision.  The focus of his message was concerning Judah and Jerusalem.  It was not many years earlier that Jonah took God’s message to Assyria to call Nineveh to repentance (and they did), and only a short time earlier that Amos took God’s message to the northern monarchy (which they ignored).  Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah who took his message to Judah, but he had no positive response either.  God is patient and desires men to live (cf. Ezek. 18:23, 30, 32), so God also sent Isaiah.

The time of the vision.  Isaiah’s ministry came during the days of four particular kings of JudahUzziah reigned from 790-739Chapter 6 indicates that Isaiah’s ministry began somewhere near the death of UzziahUzziah was a good king, though pride became his undoing when he tried to offer incense and God turned him into a leper (2 Kings 15:3-5; 2 Chron. 26:16-21).  To his credit, he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord (2 Chron. 26:4) and gave wise leadership.  Uzziah built a strong military and developed a port for commerce at Eilat on the Red Sea (2 Chron. 26:3-15).

Jotham reigned from 750-731, taking over as a co-regent because of his father’s leprosy.  Jothamwas also a builder, but his major failure was his own spiritual corruption and his willingness to allow such corruption to remain within the land (2 Kings 15:34; 2 Chron. 27:1-2).

Ahaz reigned from 735-715, but he was not a man of faith.  When threatened by an overthrow from Syria and Israel, he did not trust Yahweh but paid the king of Assyria to save him from Syria and Israel (2 Kings 16:7-9).  Despite a temporary intervention, this bribe did not stop Assyria from eventually invading.  Ahaz sinned badly by having an Assyrian altar placed in the Jerusalem temple (2 Kings 16:10-16; 2 Chron. 28:3).

Hezekiahwas a man of GodThere is debate about the exact dates of his reign.  One view is that he ruled from roughly 726-698 (29 years).  Another view is that he reigned715 to 686.  Another view is that Hezekiah was a co-regent from 726–716 and sole king from 716–698.[1]  Steinmann notes that Kitchen and Mitchell (The New Bible Dictionary),propose to harmonize the synchronizations presented in 2 Kings 17 and 18 by postulating a thirteen-year co-regency of Hezekiah with his father Ahaz.  This view is favored by Harrison as well [giving a 43+ year reign from 729-686].[2]  The Tyndale Bible Dictionary notes that,

The chronology of Hezekiah’s reign is difficult to establish with certainty. The Bible says the Assyrian siege of Samaria, capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, began in the fourth year of his reign and that Samaria fell in the sixth year (2 Kgs 18:9–10), which would make his reign begin about 728 bc and end about 699 bc. Assyrian king Sennacherib besieged the fortified Judean cities during Hezekiah’s 14th year (2 Kgs 18:13), which would have been 714 bc. Assyrian records, however, indicate that Sennacherib came to the Assyrian throne in 705 bc and that his Judean campaign took place in 701 bc. The most generally accepted solution to the discrepancy is that Hezekiah came to the throne in 715 bc, probably after a co-regency with his father, Ahaz, that began in 728 bc.[3]

The precise dates of Hezekiah’s reignare not a settled issue, but thishas little bearing on the ultimate interpretation of Isaiah’s messages.  The present author sees 729-686 as the best understanding for the full reign.

As noted earlier, Hezekiah was a godly man known for his reformation efforts (2 Kings 18:4, 22; 2 Chron. 30:1).  Also notable was the way that Hezekiah trusted God when Assyria besieged Jerusalem and God delivered them (Isa. 37:9ff.; cf. 2 Kings 19:9ff.).  Also notable was the way that God granted Hezekiah fifteen additional years of life when Hezekiah pleaded for healing, presumably from 703/2-686 B.C.(Isa. 38; cf. 2 Kings 20:1).  The last notable detail in Hezekiah came after Hezekiah’s recovery when Merodach-Baladan of Babylon sent messengers to congratulate Hezekiah on his recovery.[4]  In his pride, Hezekiah showed the messengers his treasures.  God told Hezekiah that it would be the Babylonians who would one day take these treasures away. 

From within the Bible, the context of Isaiah is found within Israel’s historical books (2 Kings 15-21; 2 Chron. 26-33).  In general, this was a period of great prosperity, but it was also a time of great apostasy.  It would appear that chapter 1 is probably the beginning of Isaiah’s prophetic ministry right around 740 B.C. and it continued to about the year 680.

God lays out His case against Israel (vv. 2-17)

One thing that is clear is that God is very angry with His people.  Isaiah lays out the case in verses 2-17 by exposing three major failures.

Israel’s first failure:  Israel failed to know her own God (vv. 2-3).  Using courtroom language, God calls heaven and earth as witnesses that His people have forgotten Him.  One finds similar courtroom language in various portions of the Old Testament (cf. e.g., Mic. 6; Ps. 50:3-23).  The background for this courtroom language may come from Deuteronomy, especially the Song of Moses (Deut. 32) where God warned Israel that one day they would commit this apostasy.[5]

The rebellion (v. 2:  “revolted,” pāša‘) is serious.  Martin notes that this term “was often used in political treaties to describe a vassal state’s disobedience to the covenant with its suzerain.”[6]  For Israel, it is even worse since Yahweh is also their Father (Exod. 4:21-22) who has faithfully raised them up, even bringing them out of the slavery of EgyptThe description continues as God likens their rebellion as worse than an ox or donkey.  Animals know their masters, but Israel does not know her God.

Israel’s second failureThe failure to reap the blessings of covenant obedience (vv. 4-9).  Instead of having the blessings of a proper relationship with her covenant God (cf. Deut. 28:1-14), Israel was now experiencing the curses of that covenant (Deut. 28:15-68).  Here in vv. 4-9 we find three descriptions of Israel that highlight this failure.

Verses 4 describe the extreme misery the nation brought upon itself.  Isaiah cries out, “Alas, 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.”  Pfeiffer notes that this name “the Holy One of Israel,”

is the most significant title employed by the prophet Isaiah [used 26 times in Isaiah].  In chapter 6 Jehovah reveals himself in a scene of heavenly glory as the Holy One (Qādôsh), i.e., the transcendent God, who is wholly separate from the frailty and finiteness of Creation (his majesty-holiness), and wholly separate from the sinfulness and defilement of man (his purity-holiness).  But this Holy One has claimed the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as his covenant children. He has given himself to them and they have given themselves to him in a covenant undertaken nationally, on their part, and solemnized before Mount Sinai (Ex 19:5-8). . . .  Because he is the Holy One of Israel, he could not stand idly by while he witnessed their grievous apostasy.[7]

Viewed from a familial perspective, Israelis completely faithless to her Father.  Interestingly, though, God still calls them “sons”even though they have abandoned (used for divorce in Mal. 2:15), despised (to look contemptuously on, to spurn[8]), and turned away from the Lord (Isa. 30:1, 9; cf. Jer. 4:22; 2 Chron. 27:2).[9]  Oswalt notesthat,

What this points up is the intimate connection between the moral life and one’s relationship to God.  Morality without submission to the One from whom morality stems may be merely another form of human pride.  On the other hand, sin and evil, guilt and corruption, cannot be avoided when the vital link with the personal Lord is removed.[10]

The failure continues in verses 5-6.  Because of its rebellion (sarah), the nation now looks like someone who has been beaten mercilessly with no one to give medical care (vv. 5-6).  God asks the rhetorical question, “Where will you be stricken again?”  In other words, where else can your body be struck more than it already has been?  The nation is destroying itself with its sin.  With descriptions like “the whole head is sick and the whole heart is faint, we get our first glimpse of the symbolism of sin and its consequences as being described by the imagery of sickness (Heb. holiy).[11]  Sin has made the nation sick and faint (cf. Jer. 8:18; Lam. 1:22; Job 6:7).  It is not just the head, though, for God says, “from 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.”[12]  The nation is incapable of saving itself from ruin, and humanly speaking there was no hope.  Nevertheless, God’s plan is that one day He will heal the “welts” (chaburah) of His people by placing one giant welt upon His Son who would give Himself to take away their sin (cf. Isa. 53:5).

The desperate situation continues in verses 7-9.  Alexanderexplains, “The prophet brings distinctly into view foreign invasions as the instrument of vengeance, and describes the country as already desolated.[13]  Israel and Judah were already beginning to feel the pain of foreign invasions.  Among these were invasions from Egypt, Aram, Edom, and Philistia (cf. 2 Chron. 28:5-18), but the worst would come from Assyria and Babylon.  These verses vividly show the devastation by making four verbless declarations(1) the land has been stripped and made desolate; (2) the cities have been burned with fire; (3) the fields have been ravaged by the enemy; (4)all of it has become a desolation, overthrown by strangers (cf. Deut. 29:23).

Pitiful Jerusalem, i.e., the Daughter of Zion (Isa. 1:8; 10:32; Jer. 4:31; Lam. 1:6; 2:13; Mic. 1:13; 4:8; Zeph. 3:14; Zech. 9:9),[14] is now left like, “a shelter in a vineyard, like a watchman’s hut in a cucumber field [cf. Job 27:18], like a besieged city.  These structures were temporary structures built to shade from the sun persons who guarded the crops against thieves and animals.  Such huts were usually ‘alone’ and easily attacked.[15]

Humanly speaking the situation is hopeless,[16] but with Yahweh there is always hope.  Isaiah thus declares, Unless the Lord of hosts had left us a few survivors, we would be like Sodom; we would be like Gomorrah (v. 9; cf. Gen. 19:24-29).  Many generations would fall under the curses of the covenant, but this will not mean the end of IsraelBy His own faithfulness (Gen. 12:1-3; 15; 35:9-12), Yahweh will not let His people become like Sodom and Gomorrah, for even in wrath there will be mercy (cf. Hab. 3:2), and God will restore His remnant (Isa. 10:20-23; cf. Rom. 9:29; 11:29).[17]

Israel’s third failureIsrael failed to uphold true righteousness that is by faith (vv. 10-17).  The rebuke begins in verse 10 when God gives a two-fold, parallel call to listenGod likens Israel to Sodom and Gomorrah.[18]  Israel hada sacrificial system that was commanded by Moses himself, but their religion was unacceptable because it was not out of faith.  Oswalt explains, “In respect to the word and the teaching of not merely God, but their own God, they are no different from Sodom and Gomorrah.[19]  God continues His rebuke in 11-17 by singling out eightreligious works they practiced with zeal, but could not bring them to God.

The first dead ritual was the “burnt offerings of rams.  The burnt offering was an offering totally offered up on the altar, an offering that symbolically conveyed the idea of total consecration.  Alexander explains: 

Male animals are mentioned, as the only ones admitted in the alah or burnt offerings; the fat and blood, as the parts in which the sacrifice essentially consisted, the one being always burnt upon the altar and the other sprinkled or poured around it.[20]

The second dead ritual was the “fat of fed cattle.”  This speaks about cattle that have been fattened up nice and plump for sacrifice.  At the very least, it shows the religious zeal of the people.  None of this, however, was out of faith, and therefore none of it was acceptable.

The third, fourth, and fifthdead rituals that God would not acceptincluded the “blood of bulls,” the “blood of lambs,” and the “blood of goats. Martin comments, the people assumed that merely by offering sacrifices at the altar they would be made ceremonially clean before God,”[21] but as God makes clear, such is not the case.  God takes no pleasure in religion if it does not come out of a right relationship (v. 12).[22]  Pfeiffer explains,

These verses do not represent rejection of the validity of blood sacrifices (as some scholars have argued), for such an interpretation would entail also rejection of prayer (cf. v. 15). Rather, they make clear that even right and proper forms of worship are utterly offensive to the Lord when presented by unrepentant worshipers.[23]

Isaiah outlines a sixth, seventh, and eighth kind of rituals He would not acceptGod tells them (1) to stop bringing their offerings (minchah, cf. Amos 5:21-27; Mic. 6:6), (2) that their incense (qetoroth) is an abomination, and (3) that all of their festivals (e.g., New Moon, Sabbath, Sacred Assemblies) are a burden.  God did command these rituals (Exod. 20:8-11; 31:12-18; Lev. 23; Num. 10:10; 28:11), but as we see in Psalm 24:4 God does not accept worship from unclean hands and impure hearts.  The problem, explains Wolf, was not the quantity of worship but the quality.[24]  God wanted no more worship from them until they turn from their sins (vv. 15-17; cf. 8:17; 59:2; Ps. 32:6; Mic. 3:4).[25]

Throughout history, two of the most vulnerable classes of people have been widows and orphans.  If the people really wanted to please God, they could start by loving and helping those who needed it most.  Such deeds would be great outward marks of a truly changed heart (James 1:27).  The religion God will accept must come from a changed life (cf. Isa. 66:18).  Alexander explains, “It is religion which leaves iniquity unchallenged and unchanged that the prophet and, more importantly, God detest.[26]

Isaiah was not alone in calling Israel to repentance, for we find the same message in other prophets (cf. Mic. 6:8; Amos 5:21-24).  The New Testament also shows that this is still the same message that applies today (Matt. 9:13; 12:7; James 1:27).  True religion is a religion that produces changed lives (James 2:18), and if someone does not come to God with a pure heart, their religion is not acceptable (James 1:26).

Second scene:  The court’s mandate:  A call to repentance (vv. 18-20)

The situation is grave, but still not hopeless.[27]  God gives the people a three-fold ultimatum meant to offer them hope(1) an invitation to repent (v. 18), (2) the promise for a right response (v. 19), and (3) a warning if they do not respond as they should (v. 20).

The invitation to repentance (v. 18)

This call to repentance should not be taken to mean, as suggested by some, that unsaved men have within themselves a spiritual capacity for reasoning themselves into a right relationship with God.  The concept of reasoning together (a Niphal stem of yakach) carries the idea of disputing the legal case toward the goal of making a right judgment (cf. Gen. 20:16; Job 23:7).[28]  God is pleading with His people to listen to His rebuke and repentAs Young describes it, what we have here is the “gracious condescension” of an amazing God, calling His people to respond before it is too late.[29] God has exposed their sin, and now they are responsible toturn from it before it is too late.[30] 

The promise that if they will repent He will cleanse (v. 19)

By His grace, the sins that are scarlet and redwill be white as snow and wool.  The condition, however, is that there must be a true repentance.  If they consent and obey, God will let them remain and be blessed (cf. Deut. 28:1-14).[31]  All they have to do is “consent to hear.”[32]  These promises remind us of timeless principles that relate to all of us.  If we turn away from God, we can expect His displeasure, but if we will obey Him,we will always find forgiveness and restoration (cf. 1 John 1:9).

God’s warning (v. 20)

Once again, the words of Isaiah flow out of the teaching God gave in the Law (Deut. 28:26, 25-36, 45ff., 64; 32:42).  If they obey, they will find blessing, but if theydo not, invaders will take them into exile.  Pfeiffer explains, “The destiny of the people depended upon their response.”[33]

Third scene:  The court’s sentence:  Judgment must fall (vv. 21-31)

Sadly, Israel is not going to listen, so judgment will come.  It would be nice to see Judah repent and find blessing, and this is what God wants them to do (cf. Ezek. 18:23, 30-31).  However, the tragic reality is that no matter what God says Judahwill not repent.[34]  Therefore, swift judgment is the only option.  In verses 21-23 Judge Yahweh gives His indictment, and in verses 24-31 He pronounces the sentence.

God’s indictment against His recalcitrant people (vv. 21-23)

Israel has failed to live according to the Godgiven standard that she once lived by to some degree.  Now, instead of being a city the reflects the glory of God, their sin had turned them into a breeding ground of wickedness, and the once-faithful city is now a faithless harlot.  The city that used to practice righteousness is now filled with evil and corruption.

By design, Israel was to be a light of truth to all the world (41:8-9; cf. Gen. 12:1-3).  God’s desire for His people was that they would reflect His excellence so that others would see His glory and be drawn to HimUnfortunately,Israel failed badly.  In verses 21-23 we see fivecontrasts between God’s right way and their present corrupted condition.

First contrast (v. 21).  God says that the faithful city (ne’emanah) has become a harlot (zonah)There was a time when Jerusalem was a “faithful city” in a relative sense (Hosea hints at this in 2:15).  All of this has changed, and now she is a harlot who has sold herself to her lovers (Jer. 2:20; 3:1ff.; Ezek. 16; Hos. 1:2; 2:2; 3:1).

Second contrast (v. 21).  Jerusalem once was a city of justice (mishpat) and righteousness (tsedeq) with honest kings and judges, but now she has become a city of murders (meratsechim).  Alexander notesthat murder certainly was not the only sin, but as the worst all social sins it embraces all others.[35]  We in America can relate to the way that our country was at one time largely characterized by a biblical worldview, but how that is quickly being abandoned and wickedness is becoming the ruling norm.

Third and fourth contrasts (v. 22).  God says that their silver has become dross and the drink diluted with water (mahal, mixed, corrupted).  Just as the people were diluted with spiritual adultery, so too their silver and water have become diluted.

Fifth contrast (v. 23).  Her early days had rulers (sar, a term that could include kings, princes, governmental officials, judges, and priests[36]) who characteristically strived to uphold the righteous character of Yahweh, but all that has changed.  Now they 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.  Oswalt notes that for the first time in his book, Isaiah makes a connection which ought not to be overlooked—the connection between idolatry and social justice.[37]  Apostasy from God and idolatry always lead to social evil, a theme we repeatedly find throughout the prophets (Isa. 29:17-21; 46:5-13; 48:17; 56:9-57:12; cf. Jer. 23:13, 14; Ezek. 16:47-52; Hos. 4:1-14; Amos 2:6-8; Mal. 3:5).  Oswalt explains the problem that Israel could not see or understand: 

Social injustice is ultimately the result of refusal to entrust oneself to a fair and loving God.  Whenever persons begin to believe that the cosmic order is basically uninterested in human welfare and that those who succeed are those who know best how to capture the cosmic forces for their own purposes (the underlying attitudes of idolatry), the relatively more helpless and vulnerable begin to be crushed.[38]

The result was a widespread demand for bribes with no concern for the helpless (Exod. 23:8; Deut. 27:25; Prov. 6:35; Amos 5:10; 8:4; Mic. 2:2; 3:1; 5:9; cf. esp. Mic. 7:1).  Judah has passed the point of no return.

The sentence:  God will continue His work (vv. 24-31)

God will continue His work, and God will fulfill His redemptive purposes.  Verses 24-31 show us five purposes which God will accomplish by judging the nation.  God will receive full satisfaction when sin has been dealt with, and in the end of His work He will use this chastising to bring His rebellious nation to repentance and restoration.

God’s first purposeHe will satisfy His own anger by judging the wicked leaders of the land (v. 24).[39]  In many contexts,God’s adversaries are the pagan nations (Exod. 3:20; 15:6; Ps. 118:15-16), but here it is His own peopleIsaiah uses assonance (homonyms) to show that the day is coming when God will get relief (nacham) from these who are defying Him by taking vengeance (naqam) on them (cf. Ezek. 5:13).

God’s second purposeGod will use His judgment to purify the nation and bring the remnant to faith (v. 25).  The end result will be purging and restoration, but this cannot happen until the nation repents. The sin (i.e., spiritual dross) must burned off (tsaraph, burn away) and taken away before a relationship with God can be restored (cf. Isa. 4:4; 48:10; Jer. 30:7; Ezek. 22:19; Hos. 3:4-5; Zeph. 3:1; Zech. 13:8-9; Mal. 3:1-3).

Just as the purifying of metals is a radical process, the purifying of Israel will also be a radical process.[40]  Hermeneutically, we must note that God not only warns the nation that He is going to judge their sin, but He also promises that one day He will bring an eventual restoration to the whole nation.  Theologically, this is the basis for what we call Dispensational Premillennialism, the view that the church is distinct from the nation of Israel (not a new or spiritual Israel), and that one day God will restore Israel in the kingdom.  This purification/restoration has not yet happened, but God has promised that He will make it happen (Jer. 3:17; 30:7; 31:31-34;Ezek. 5:5; 36:20ff.; Mic. 4:2; Zech. 8:22; 13:1ff., 8-9; 14:16ff.).

God’s third purposeIt will be a restoration of true righteousness in Jerusalem and all the land (vv. 26-27).  The leaders of Isaiah’s day were about as wicked as could be (vv. 21-23), but God promises that when His purification is completed, Zion will once again be a city of righteousness and faithfulness.[41]  God says, “Zion will be redeemed (padah) with justice and her repentant ones with righteousness, a price that Yahweh Himself pays by the exercise of His own covenant faithfulness (Isaiah uses the same two terms in 9:7; 28:17; 32:16; 33:5; cf. 4:4; 5:16; 28:17).[42] 

The price of sin is high, but faithful Yahweh will fulfill His promises (Isa. 53:4-6).  Morris explains,“YHWH is bestirring Himself on His people’s behalf; it is no ordinary activity.”[43]  All men have to do is repent and believe and restoration will be theirs (v. 27).  Jerusalem will again be a city of righteousness and faithfulness (Isa. 33:5; 60:14; 62:1; cf. Zech. 8:3).

God’s fourth purposeDefiant sinners will be judged and excluded from His kingdom (v. 28).  The absence of a copula verb makes the language quite vivid:  “crushed together the transgressors and sinners” (cf. similar structure in 13:4; 52:8; 66:6).[44]  Those who refuse to repent will be judged excluded from the kingdom.[45]

God’s fifthpurposeIsrael will recognize the shame that comes when one turns from the Lord to embrace idols (vv. 29-31).  Israel was habitually falling into idolatry—pagan worship that was typically carried out in places like sacred tree groves and sacred gardens (Isa. 17:8; 27:9; 57:5; 65:3; 66:17; cf. Deut. 7:5; 16:21; Judg. 3:7; 1 Kings 15; 2 Kings 17:10; Jer. 17:12; Ezek. 6:13; Hos. 4:13).[46]  These idolaters falsely believed “that divinity was attributed to the powers of nature, [so] worship was held under the trees.[47]  God tells them that one day they will be utterly ashamed for trusting idols instead of Him (Isa. 41:24; 44:9; 65:11-12; 66:3).

Verses 30-31 vividly illustrate what happens to those who refuse to listen.  Those who trust in dumb idols will become like them and dry up and shrivel away (Isa. 33:12-14; 34:8-12; 64:10; Jer. 17:6; Ps. 1:4).  Eternal burning will come by the fires of an eternal hell that are never quenched (Isa. 66:24; Dan. 12:2; Rev. 14:9-11; 20:11-15).

Summary and application The opening chapter confronts us with the reality that God will not tolerate dead religion.  Outward ritual is worthless if it has not come out of a heart of faith.  Let each one of us apply this truth to our hearts lest we fail as ancient Israel did in being religious without being righteous.

[1] Charles F. Pfeiffer,The Wycliffe BibleCommentary:  Old Testament, cited in electronic form with Logos Libronix (Chicago: Moody Press, 1962), Is 1:1.

[2] Andrew E. Steinmann, “The Chronology of 2 Kings 15-18,” JETS 30:4 (1987):  393.

[3] Walter A. Elwell and Philip Wesley Comfort,TyndaleBibleDictionary, Tyndale Reference Library, cited in electronic form in Logos Libronix (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), 601.

[4] MerodachBaladan was also attempting to get Hezekiah to join an alliance against Assyria (Isa. 39; 2 Kings 20:12ff.).

[5]The flow of the background includes the following:  (1) God announced these truths long before (30:15-19).  (2) God warned the nation through Moses (31:14-16).  (3) God told them He would judge (31:17-18).  (4) God told Moses to write a song as a witness (31:19ff.).  (5) God’s faithfulnessis always true (32:1-14).  (6) The nation’s rejection of the Lord will one day come (32:15-22).  (7) God’s rejection of the nation will be a certain response (32:23-27).  (8) The folly of the people was predicted beforehand (32:28-43).

[6]John A. Martin, “Isaiah,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1, cited in electronic form from Logos Libronix (Wheaton, IL:  Victor Books, 1985), 1034.

[7] Pfeiffer,TheWycliffe Bible Commentary, Is 1:4.  See the following passages for “The Holy One” (1:4, 5, 19, 24; 6:1ff.; 10:7, 20; 12:6; 17:7; 29:19, 23; 30:11, 12, 15; 31:1; 37:23; 40:25; 41:14, 16, 20; 43:3, 14, 15; 45:11; 47:4; 48:17; 49:7; 54:5; 55:5; 60:9, 14; only 6X in rest of OT).

[8] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew And Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, cited in electronic form with Logos Libronix (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 658.

[9] Edward J. Young, The Book of Isaiah,vol. 1 (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1965), 46.

[10]John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, 1-39 (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1986), 87.

[11]Especially notable is that God’s Servant will one day become personally acquainted with such sickness (53:3) coming in human flesh to take the punishment for this sin/sickness upon Himself (53:4) as Yahweh crushes Him as a guilt offering in the place of His people (53:10).

[12]Common treatment would have included squeezing out infection followed by the pouring of oil and wrapping with bandages.  No one has come to clean and wrap these wounds (cf. Hos. 5:13), but it is her own fault (Deut. 28:35).

[13]Joseph A. Alexander, Commentaryon Isaiah (Grand Rapids:  Kregel, 1992), 84.

[14] It is hermeneutically illegitimate to treat the name Zion (or Daughter of Zion or Virgin Daughter of Zion) allegorically by treatingit as meaning heaven.

[15]Martin, “Isaiah,” 1035.

[16]The problem is never that God is powerless to save (cf. 2 Kings 6:15-18).

[17]This is not the usual word “remnant,” but means “one who has escaped” (sarid, someone fleeing and escaping death).  See similar ideas in other passages (Isa. 1:27; 2:2-4; 4:2; 7:3; 10:18-23; 11:11, 16; 46:3; cf. Joel 2:32).

[18]God lambastes His people with these two expressions that would have curdled the blood of the self-righteous Jews (cf. Jer. 23:14; Rev. 11:8).

[19]Oswalt, TheBook of Isaiah, Chapters 1-39, 96.

[20] Alexander, Commentary on Isaiah, 86.

[21] Martin, “Isaiah,” 1035.

[22] We find a similar rejection of sacrificeselsewhere (1 Sam. 15:22-23; Ps. 51:16-17; Jer. 7:21-23; Hos. 6:6; Amos 5:22-24; Mic. 6:6-8).  The key to acceptable worship is that it comes through repentant faith (1 Kings 8:23-53).

[23] Pfeiffer, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary:  Old Testament, Is 1:11.

[24] Wolf, Interpreting Isaiah, 75.

[25] Blood is not necessarily a reference to physical blood, though this idea can be embraced by the expression.  The idea is often that of violent injustice against others, i.e., doing hateful and violent injustice with what is effectively social murder.  Many prophets mention such sin (Isa. 10:1-2; 58:6-7; 59:3; cf. Ezek. 9:9; 36:18; Mic. 3:10; Hab. 2:12).  The effective idea is that God is calling His people to true repentance.  Isaiah’s use of the Masoretic Text’s Hithpael stem carries the force of “make yourself clean” (Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1-39,93).

[26] Alexander, Commentaryon Isaiah, 97.

[27] Wolf,Interpreting Isaiah, 75.

[28] Ludwig Koehler et al.,TheHebrew andAramaic Lexiconofthe Old Testament, cited in electronic form with Logos Libronix (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 410.

[29] Young, The Bookof Isaiah,vol. 1, 77.

[30] If they will respond, they will find grace and healing (cf. Hos. 5:14-6:3).

[31]G. W. Grogan, “Isaiah,” in The Expositors Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 6 (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 1986), 31.

[32] Cited by Alexander, Commentary onIsaiah, 90.

[33] Pfeiffer,The Wycliffe Bible Commentary:  Old Testament, Is 1:19.

[34]A century later Jeremiah will denounce Judah for their miserable condition:  “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots?  Then you also cando good who are accustomed to doing evil” (Jer. 13:23; cf. Hos. 4:4 with a similar rebuke to the northern kingdom:  “Their deeds will not allow them to return to their God, for a spirit of harlotry is within them, and they do not know the way of the Lord.  Moreover, the pride of Israel testifies against him, and Israel and Ephraim stumble in their iniquity”).

[35] Alexander, Commentaryon Isaiah, 91.

[36] Ludwig Koehler et al.,The Hebrewand AramaicLexiconof the OldTestament, cited in electronic form with Logos Libronix (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 1350–1353.

[37] Oswalt, TheBookof Isaiah,Chapters 139, 106.

[38] Ibid.

[39] The three-fold self-identification highlights His anger over sin:  The Lord (the sovereign Lord, over 430 times in the OT), Yahweh of Hosts (i.e., the God of all the armies of heaven), The Mighty One of Israel (only here, although “Mighty One of Jacob” occurs 5 times in Isa. 49:26; 60:16; Gen. 5:24; Ps. 132:2, 5).

[40] Young, The Book ofIsaiah, vol.1, 87.

[41]This will include a Levitical priesthood (Jer. 30:20-21; 33:14-26; Ezek. 40-48).

[42] Ludwig Koehler et al.,The Hebrew andAramaic Lexicon oftheOld Testament, cited in electronic form with Logos Libronix (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 911–912.  The basic force of padah is the idea of redeeming/ransoming/buying back by the payment of some kind of price (Exod. 13:13; Exod. 21:8:  Slave; Num. 3:40: Levites; Num. 18:15-17).  In sacrificial contexts, it is the expiation of guilt by the sacrifice of the animal, but in the present context, the price to be paid is the work of God exercising His justice and righteousness to buy back Israel (cf. Hos. 3:2).

[43] Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of theCross (London:  Tyndale, 1955), 17.

[44] Young,TheBook of Isaiah,vol. 1,90.

[45] Cf. Isa. 65:8-15; Jer. 30:7-11; Ezek. 20:36-38; Amos 9:8-10; Zech. 5:3; Mal. 3:1-4; Matt. 8:11-12; 13:40-43, 49-50; 21:43; 22:1-14; 24:31, 40-41, 48-51; 25:1-13, 14-30, 31-46.

[46] Oswalt, TheBookof Isaiah,139, 110-111.

[47] Young, The Book of Isaiah, vol. 1, 91.

One Thought on “God Takes Israel to Court for its Dead Religion (Isa. 1:1-31)”

  • Excellent examination of Isaiah 1. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ and was looking for further commentary on Isaiah 1 as a legal case against Israel. Your article is thorough and well organized and written. Thank you!

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