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An Anguished Father Deals with Rebellious Children
Though your sins are scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are crimson red, they will be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land. But if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword. (Isa 1:18-20)
Main Idea: God summons to court the people of the religious-yet-wicked Jewish nation for their many sins and pleads with them to repent so he can save them.
I. A God Who Speaks (1:1-2)
A. A river of words but a seemingly silent God B. God's apparent silence misleading C. A heavenly court trial
II. A God Who Judges His People (1:2-9)
A. The heartbreak of rebellion B. God's active judgment against his people C. Yet in wrath, a God who remembers mercy
III. A God Who Despises Religious Hypocrisy (1:10-15)
A. A parade in hypocritical religion B. God's utter revulsion at formalism and hypocrisy
IV. A God Who Pleads with Sinners (1:16-20)
A. A call to come, a call to reason, a call to repent B. A promise of total forgiveness C. A warning of total destruction
V. A God Who Works Salvation and Threatens Judgment (1:21-31)
A. Total purification offered, but how?
A God Who Speaks
We live in a world flooded by an overwhelming river of words. Research indicates that on average a human being speaks approximately seven thousand words per day (Liberman, "Sex-Linked Lexical Budgets"). With the world's population having climbed to more than seven billion, that means the human race speaks as many as fifty trillion words every day! With the explosion of multimedia, Wi-Fi, Internet, cable TV, podcasts, etc., we are drowning in words on a daily basis. But we never hear the voice of God — not with our ears anyway. God does not air a daily podcast, appear on the nightly news, or speak to us audibly from the mountaintop or from a bright cloud in the sky; he seems to be silent.
But the Bible is filled with God's speech. And the book of Isaiah begins with a call for heaven and earth to listen to God's words (v. 2). In 1972 Francis Schaeffer published a book with the unforgettable title, He Is There, and He Is Not Silent. He argued that the primary philosophical question facing the human race is, Why is there something rather than nothing? Schaeffer concluded that the only possible final answer to this question is a triune God who speaks and thereby reveals himself to us. Given that we live in a vast, terrifyingly huge universe, it is easy to wonder if we are completely alone. Schaeffer's title implies the apparent silence of God; it accepts as a premise that God does not seem to be there, and he does not seem to speak.
But he is, and he does. God speaks every single day to those who have faith to hear him. He speaks powerfully by creation, which pours out speech day by day (Ps 19:1-2), proclaiming the invisible attributes and divine nature of God (Rom 1:20). And God has most clearly spoken by the Holy Spirit through the prophets (Heb 1:1). This is the very thing the Jewish nation requested of God at Mount Sinai when God's awesome voice was terrifying them (Deut 18:16-18). That was the origin of the office of the prophet, the one who was gifted to hear God speak words directly to him by the Spirit and relate them in speech and writing to the people of God. And through the writings of the prophets, God continues to speak to the human race every single day. This is the significance of the verb tenses: "Listen [now], heavens, pay attention [now], earth, for the Lord has spoken [in the past]." God is still speaking to the universe by the words of Isaiah the prophet, but only those with faith in Christ can hear all that he's saying.
In Isaiah 1 God is summoning his sinful people, Israel, to a court trial. When God gave Israel its law under Moses, he promised them blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. In the book of Deuteronomy, four times he calls heaven and earth as witnesses concerning the covenant he was making with the nation at that time: "I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse" (Deut 30:19; see also 4:26; 31:28; and 32:1). By Isaiah's day Israel had repeatedly broken the covenant, and God was about to exile ten tribes to Assyria; he would soon exile Judah to Babylon. Before doing that, he was assembling the court of the universe so that he could press his case against his own people. Heaven and earth were ready to take the witness stand against Israel. The rest of Isaiah 1 lays out the devastating case God was prosecuting against his own sinful people.
A God Who Judges His People
God begins his case in verse 2, but the "courtroom" (heaven and earth) is shocked to find out he is prosecuting his own children! Any godly parent of a wayward child can easily hear the heartbreak in God's accusation: "I have raised children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me." When children rebel, mortal parents will rightly admit, "I was not a perfect father" or "I was not a perfect mother." There has been only one perfect Father in history: God. And yet, all but one of his children rebelled anyway.
But God is not only a loving Father; he is also a righteous and holy Judge. And his zeal for his law and his holy reputation drives him on to prosecute the case against this rebellious nation. Step by step in this chapter Isaiah exposes Israel's sin: rebellion against God (v. 2); beastlike ignorance of him who has provided everything for them (v. 3); sinfulness so weighty it threatens to sink them down (v. 4); a "brood of evildoers" (v. 4); depravity (v. 4); contempt for and abandonment of the Lord (v. 4); a nation who have turned their backs on God (v. 4); persistence in rebellion despite many warnings (v. 5); violence (v. 15); murder (v. 21); sexual immorality (v.21); robbery (v. 23); injustice and oppression of the poor and needy, especially on the part of the rulers and judges of the people (v. 23); and idolatrous worship (v. 29). To make matters much worse, over this seething pot of wickedness is draped a flimsy coat of religiosity: their claimed continual observance of the law of Moses with no sense whatsoever of their hypocrisy.
God had not been passively waiting for his people to repent. In verses 5-7 God speaks of the devastated state of his people, likening them to a body that has been beaten almost beyond recognition: "From the sole of the foot even to the head, no spot is uninjured" (v. 6). This implies the aching desire God has to be a loving Father to heal the wounds he himself has inflicted, just as he said in the Song of Moses: "I bring death and I give life; I wound and I heal" (Deut 32:39). In Isaiah 1:7 he makes it plain he is speaking about the destruction of the countryside by a foreign army, the very thing he warned about before Israel ever entered the land (Deut 28:49-52; 32:21,30).
Given Isaiah's context, verses 5-9 probably speak of Assyria's final invasion of Judah during which the only part of the promised land not conquered was Jerusalem. Isaiah says that "the Daughter of Zion" (Jerusalem) is left "like a shack in a cucumber field, like a besieged city," and it is clear the beating given to the nation of Israel is directly from God for all these sins. So it is for Christians today — God "disciplines the one he loves and punishes every son he receives" (Heb 12:6). Sometimes when his children go after idols or become stubborn in sin, God brings severe repercussions — health issues, financial woes, natural disasters, etc. These are to train us to hate our sin as much as he does.
In verse 9 God speaks of the "survivors" left under this onslaught of judgment. This is evidence of how God in wrath remembers mercy (Hab 3:2). Isaiah concedes that his people are no better than Sodom and Gomorrah (vv. 9-10), but by his amazing grace God chooses a remnant for salvation. The apostle Paul picks up on this verse as part of his powerful teaching on God's sovereign election for salvation, the remnant chosen by grace in Romans 9:29. In our sins we are no better than the worst people who ever lived — the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah. Yet for his own glory God chose us to be part of his remnant, a remnant chosen not because God found anything of value in us but rather for his own purpose in grace.
A God Who Despises Religious Hypocrisy
In verses 10-15 God cries out against the religious machinery that was constantly running in this wicked nation. They were absolute hypocrites, trampling his temple courts with a seemingly endless parade of animal sacrifices. Year after year this mindless machine of meaningless religious exercises continued. But all this religion was being done by people who were living the wicked lives described in Isaiah 1. This chapter stuns us by telling us that God hated their religion.
In these verses God reveals his heart about religious formalism and hypocrisy. He detested their incense (v.13) and hated their festivals (v. 14). Their constant sacrifices, however costly and of high quality, he called "useless" (v. 13). Even their prayers were offensive to God; he considered them a burden he was weary of bearing, and he vowed to refuse even to look at them when they prayed. What's amazing about all this is that God had commanded all these things to be done. But God cares about the heart attitude behind all of these actions. Later in Isaiah, God will say of them, "These people approach me with their speeches to honor me with lip-service — yet their hearts are far from me" (29:13).
This insight is vital for us in the twenty-first century as well. It is so easy to get into a pattern of religious observance and have our hearts grow increasingly hard toward God because of our sinfulness throughout the week. Many people go to church every Sunday and then live like complete unbelievers the rest of the week. God despises religion that is a mere external machine, that never draws the worshipers into a clear understanding of the holiness of God and their own need for Jesus Christ as Savior.
A God Who Pleads with Sinners
Even more amazing than God's utter disdain for mindless religion is his willingness to save sinners from the judgment they so richly deserve. In verses 16-20 is one of the most famous calls to repentance and salvation found anywhere in Scripture. Here the holy God is calling on filthy, corrupted sinners to come to him. In verse 18 is the command to "Come," to draw near to God. Their sins have made them distant from him, but now God beckons them to come close to him. Along with this is a call to "settle" the issue. The Hebrew word is rich, as though God were opening up a line of communication, urging them to use the reasoning powers with which he endowed them at creation. At its essential nature, sin is unreasonable, irrational, insane. It produces corruption and misery; it results in estrangement from God and enslavement to ever-increasing wickedness; it stores up an ever-increasing wrath on judgment day. Sin is the ultimate tyrant, seeking to destroy our very lives. Conversely, God is the most delightful being in the universe; in his presence is the fullness of joy (Ps 16:11). "Come, let us settle this" means, "Let us talk about all this, let me reason with you to forsake your sins, come to your senses, and come home to the God who loves you."
At the core of this is a call to repentance. It is not a call to more religious activities, sacrifices, and empty prayers. Rather, it is a call to wash the filth of sin from your hands, to put away sins from God's sight, to stop violating God's laws. It is a call to live a righteous, morally pure life, one that is filled with compassion for the poor, the needy, the oppressed, and the widow. Genuine repentance will result in a sacrificial life of concern for others, even a costly concern that spends oneself for the most destitute in society. This is a call to complete and radical transformation. The question is, Is it possible for a sinner to do this?
Verses 18-19 contain some of the richest promises of cleansing and total forgiveness in the Bible. Sin had left the deepest stain, indelible in the sight of a holy God who sees all and forgets nothing. God is able to wash away the scarlet stain and make sinners white as snow. At the core of this forgiveness is a transformation of the hearts of sinners; formerly rebellious and unyielding, they are now made "willing and obedient." And having been so transformed, they will eat all the good things of the promised land, as if they had never sinned at all. But once again the question stands before us: Can we make our own hearts willing and obedient?
On the other side of this lavish promise of forgiveness and rich restoration is a terrifying warning of total destruction (v. 20). This is nothing different from the original blessings-and-curses aspect of the Mosaic covenant by which the people of Israel had inherited the promised land to begin with. This same dual outcome is repeated in verses 27-28: The repentant sinners will be redeemed, but rebels who abandon God will perish. God clearly threatens the destruction of all sinners who refuse his offer of forgiveness and restoration. In Isaiah's day this most likely would come by being devoured by the sword of some invading army.
A God Who Works Salvation and Threatens Judgment
The people are pictured as completely sinful and completely defiled, dripping with blood. They are told to wash and cleanse themselves (v. 16). They are told to become as pure as snow and clean wool (v. 18). But how can this be done? Jeremiah asked rightly, "Can the Cushite change his skin, or a leopard his spots? If so, you might be able to do what is good, you who are instructed in evil" (Jer 13:23). It seems like an impossible command for sinners like us to obey. These verses speak of a terrifying judgment that God will bring on all who do not repent: rebels and sinners (Isa 1:28) will perish in the flames (v. 31).
In verses 26-27 Isaiah predicts the day when "Zion" (the city where God and humanity dwell together, pictured by Jerusalem) will be restored to perfect righteousness. But how can sinners like these ever be "redeemed by justice"? Justice stands against such sinners, accusing them and condemning them to destruction. But still, the prediction stands that Zion will someday be righteous in God's sight. The issues of Isaiah 1 couldn't be more poignant, and the desperate question stands again and again: How can sinners like us be redeemed with justice and be seen as perfectly righteous in God's sight?
The answer of the entire book of Isaiah, indeed of the whole Bible, is clear: in Christ alone can sinners be washed, be transformed, be redeemed with justice, and stand righteous in God's sight. Christ is the perfect sacrifice whose blood actually can cleanse the guilty, defiled conscience and make it whole again. Isaiah 53 will clearly predict the sacrifice of Jesus in the place of sinners, the one who was "pierced because of our rebellion, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on him, and we are healed by his wounds" (v.5). By this "righteous servant" many wicked people will be justified (v. 11), which means "redeemed by justice [and] righteousness" (1:27). In the cleansing fountain of Christ's redeeming blood alone, our filth and sinful wickedness can be cleansed. In Christ alone we can stop doing wrong and learn to do right. In Christ alone we can stop bringing meaningless sacrifices. In Christ alone we can learn genuine concern for the poor, the widow, the orphan. In Christ alone even though our sins are like scarlet they will be as white as snow and as pure as wool. In Christ alone can God make wicked sinners like us righteous in his sight; and through his death on the cross the penitent ones will be redeemed with justice. Written seven centuries before Christ, this entire chapter yearns for Jesus to come and make it a reality.
Excerpted from "Exalting Jesus in Isaiah"
Copyright © 2017 Andrew M. Davis.
Excerpted by permission of B&H Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Series Introduction xv
An Anguished Father Deals with Rebellious Children 1 8
Competing High Places: God versus Man 2 17
Clearing the Site: From Vainglory to True Glory 3-4 24
God's Lavished Grace Tragically Rendered Fruitless 5 31
The Lord of Glory Calls His Messenger 6 38
Stand Firm in Faith, or You Won't Stand at All 7 46
Two Paths to Eternity 8 54
The Eternal Kingdom of the Prince of Peace 9:1-7 61
His Hand Is Still Raised 9:8-10:4 68
The God Who Tests Motives 10:5-34 74
The Perfect Nature of Christ's Glorious Kingdom 11 80
Celebrating God's All-Conquering Grace 12 86
The End of the World: Babylon's Past and Future Destruction 13 90
God's Sovereign Plan to Destroy Satan's Puppet Kings 14 95
The Raging of the Nations Stilled by God's Judgment 15-18 101
Egypt's Judgment Results in Egypt's Salvation 19-20 111
Babylon and Its Allies Are No Refuge for God's People 21 117
When God Calls You to Mourn for Sin, Don't Party Instead 22 123
The Merchants of Tyre Stripped of Their Glory 23 129
Judgments for the Earth, Joy for the Righteous, Glory for God 24 137
God Will Swallow Up Death Forever 25 143
A Song of Salvation for the Peace of the Oppressed 26 148
The Lord-a Warrior and Vinekeeper-Saves His Sinful People 27 153
Self-Salvation versus Salvation in Christ 28 158
God Acts Powerfully to Cure Spiritual Hypocrisy 29 163
God Saves His Stubborn Children from Self-Salvation 30 168
Trust in God, Not in Your Schemes and Idols 31 174
The Righteous King and Outpoured Spirit Transform the World 32 179
A Magnificent Vision of the King in His Glorious Triumph 33 184
God Warns the Whole Earth of the Wrath to Come 34 190
The Cursed Universe Restored to God's Original Purposes 35 196
On Whom Are You Depending to Defeat the Evil Tyrant? 36 203
God Vindicates His Honor over an Arrogant Foe 37 209
God's Purpose in Illness and Healing 38 216
The Tragic End of Shortsighted Faith 39 222
The Awesome Display of the Glory of God Saves Sinners 40 228
Only God Can Tell Us What Will Happen 41 236
The Gentle King Establishes Justice on Earth 42 243
God Glorifies Himself by Working a New Salvation 43 250
The Solitary God Ridicules Idolaters and Raises Up Cyrus 44 257
The Temporary Empire of Cyrus Serves the Eternal Empire of Christ 45 264
"Gods" You Must Carry versus a God Who Carries You 46 273
Wicked Babylon's Fall from Its Lofty Throne 47 280
Why Does God Put Up with Us? For His Glory and Our Benefit 48 286
Christ Unveiled as Restorer of Israel and Light for the Nations 49 292
Christ Listened to His Father to Save Those Who Listen to Him 50 300
Look to the Past to Learn How Bright Is the Future 51 305
Awake, Zion, and Celebrate. Your God Reigns 52:1-12 311
Jesus, Our Suffering Servant 52:13-53:12 316
God's Grace in Christ Makes Zion Glorious 54 325
All Are Invited to an Eternal Feast 55 331
The Wheat and the Weeds: Holy Living in a Mixed-up World 56-57 337
Hypocritical Religiosity versus Genuine Love for God and Neighbor 58 344
The Lord Intervenes to Save Depraved Sinners 59 349
The Glory of Zion 60 355
The Messiah Announces Good News 61 361
Christ's Passionate Zeal for the Glory of His Bride 62 366
God's Passionate Response to Sin Draws Forth Intercession 63-64 372
"Behold, Me!" and My New Creation 65 381
The Final Chapter: Eternal Worship versus Eternal Torment 66 388
Works Cited 395
Scripture Index 399