Isaiah 1

Isaiah 1  •  5 min. read  •  grade level: 10
The first verse shows that Isaiah’s ministry was in the southern kingdom and extended into four reigns. Three of the kings mentioned did mainly what was right, one especially so, and only one Ahaz turned aside and did evil. Yet the prophet’s opening words reveal a sad state of departure and rebellion among the people. There was not only this, but, as verse 3 states, complete insensibility and indifference. They did not display the instinctive knowledge found in an ox or a donkey. Hence the terrible indictment of verse 4. They were sinful and marked by iniquity, evil-doing, corruption, alienation; and all this was while God-fearing kings were on the throne. It illumines what is said in 2 Chronicles 27, the end of verse 2.
All this had brought upon them the heavy hand of God in discipline and disaster, yet without any reforming effect, as verses 5-9 show. Graphic figures are used to bring home to the people their deplorable state, and verse 9 reveals that only a small remnant existed that God could recognize. Had not that remnant been there, a judgment like to that of Sodom and Gomorrah would have fallen on them. This is ever God’s way. Again and again in the past He had maintained a small remnant for Himself in the midst of Verse 10 has a solemn voice to us. The prophet likens the religious leaders of his day to the rulers and people of those cities of wickedness that centuries before had been destroyed. We say religious leaders because of the verses that follow, where they and the people are shown to have been zealous and punctilious observers of the ritual of Judaism. What were they doing? They were offering sacrifices and burnt offerings, bringing oblations and incense, observing new moons, Sabbaths, appointed feasts and assemblies, spreading forth their hands with many prayers. Were not these things right, as ordered through Moses? Yes, they were. Yet all this was declared to be a weariness to God and an abomination in His sight, because, as verses 16 and 17 reveal, their ceremonial exactness was only a decent exterior covering a mass of moral evil and uncleanness. The state of things here exposed blossomed forth into the Pharisaism so trenchantly denounced by our Lord in Matt. 23.
What needed instruction for us! How easy for the present-day Christian to lapse into a similar condition! There are all too many professing Christians who do forsake “the assembling of ourselves together” (Heb. 10:2525Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. (Hebrews 10:25)), for like Demas they love this present age. But what about those of us who are present? even at the prayer meeting, which many seem to regard as the least interesting of such assemblies. Are we marked by godly and separate living? by what the apostle James calls, “Pure religion and undefiled” (James 1:2727Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. (James 1:27))? for there is a strong resemblance between his words and verses 16 and 17 of our chapter. Let us never forget that with God right moral condition is far more important than ceremonial exactness in Judaism, or even correct church procedure in Christianity. If scrupulous ecclesiastical exactitude fosters moral negligence it becomes an abomination to God.
The stern denunciation we have read is followed by a word of grace and forgiveness, a foreshadowing of what we have in the Gospel today. The “all have sinned” of Romans 3 is followed by justification, freely offered through “His grace”. Only, the cleansing, offered in verse 18, was in its nature a “passing over” of sins “through the forbearance of God”, as stated in Romans 3:2525Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; (Romans 3:25), since the only basis for a cleansing full and eternal lay in the sacrifice of Christ, centuries ahead.
Notice too how “if” occurs in verses 19 and 20. The cleansing and blessing offered hinge upon obedience. To refuse and rebel brings judgment. Both blessing and judgment are concerned with matters of this life, since what is involved in the life to come appears but little in the Old Testament. When the Gospel preacher of today happily and appropriately uses these verses, he of course refers to the eternal consequences of receiving or rejecting the offer, basing what he says on New Testament scripture.
The prophet returns to his denunciation of the existing state of things in verse 21. In verse 24 he announces that the Lord is going to act in judgment, treating them as adversaries; but in the next verse declaring that He will turn His hand upon the remnant, refining them as silver, and purging away their dross. The expression “turn My hand” is also found in Zechariah 13:77Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones. (Zechariah 13:7), where also, as here, it denotes an action of blessing and not judgment. This is quite plain in the next verses of our chapter. But the redemption of Zion and her converts will be through judgment.
The testimony of Scripture is consistent that the earthly blessing of the coming age will be reached, not by the preaching of the Gospel, but by judgment. This is again declared most plainly when we reach chapter 26:9-10. A clear New Testament corroboration of this is found in Revelation 15:44Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest. (Revelation 15:4). This judgment will mean the destruction of the transgressors. They may have forsaken the Lord and turned to false gods with their oaks and gardens, but these evil powers will avail them nothing. All will be consumed together.
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