The Word Made Fresh
1This is the vision Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah:
2Listen, heavens! Listen, earth! This is what the LORD has spoken!
I raised a family of children. I brought them up.
But they have turned against me.
3The ox knows its owner and the donkey knows its master’s cribs;
But Israel doesn’t know; my people don’t understand.
4You sinful nation of people! You are burdened with wrongdoing.
You gave birth to offspring who are full of sinfulness,
who do evil things and behave corruptly.
You have turned away from the LORD
and have hated the Holy One of Israel.
And therefore, you are completely estranged.
5Why are you looking for even more punishment?
Why have you continued to rebel?
All your leaders are sick with sinfulness;
they are weak at heart.
6There is nothing good about them from head to foot.
There is nothing sound about them.
They have only bruises and sores and bleeding wounds
that have not been dressed or cleaned or softened with oil.
7Look! Your whole country lies in ruins!
Your cities are burning with fire!
Right before your eyes foreigners use up your land,
and leave it barren and useless.
8Our daughter Zion is left standing like a booth in a vineyard,
or a shelter in a field of cucumbers, or like a city under siege.
9The LORD of hosts left us a few survivors;
otherwise, we would have become like Sodom, and like Gomorrah.
10Now, hear the word of the LORD, you leaders of Sodom!
Listen to what our God says, you remnant of Gomorrah!
11What do I care about your piles of sacrifices? The LORD says,
I’ve had enough of rams given as burnt offerings.
I’ve had enough of the fat of fatted cattle.
I do not take delight in the blood of bulls, or lambs, or goats.
12You continue to come before me, but who asked this from you?
Trample my courts no more!
13It is futile to bring offerings. I hate your incense.
All these new moon and sabbath and summons to convocations –
I can’t stand them anymore!
14My soul hates your new moons and your appointed festivals.
They are a burden to me, and I am worn out with bearing them.
15So, when you stretch out your hands, I will turn my eyes away.
Even though you make many prayers
I will not listen, for your hands are smeared with blood.
16So, wash yourselves! Scrub yourselves clean!
Remove your evil doings from before my eyes and cease doing evil.
17Learn to do good; to seek justice; to rescue those who are oppressed;
to defend the orphans; to plead on behalf of the widows.
18Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD.
Though your sins are bright red, like scarlet,
they can be whiter than snow.
Though they are red as crimson, they can become pure as wool.
19If you are willing; if you will be obedient,
you shall yet eat the good of the land.
20But if you rebel you shall be devoured by the sword.
The mouth of the LORD has spoken!
21Look how the faithful city has become a prostitute.
She who was filled with justice, a home for righteousness,
is now a home for murderers!
22Your silver has become worthless. Your choice wine is watered down.
23Your royal houses have rebelled and have taken up with thieves.
You all love bribes and run after gifts.
You don’t defend orphans nor care about the widow’s plight.
24This is what the Sovereign One,
the LORD of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel, says:
Yes, I will pour out my anger on my enemies,
and avenge myself on my foes!
25I will turn my hand against you and destroy all your impurities.
I will melt them away and remove them all.
26I will reinstate your judges to their former place.
Then you shall again be called the city of righteousness,
the faithful city.
27Zion shall be redeemed by justice,
and all those who live there who repent, by righteousness.
28But sinners and those who rebel shall be destroyed together,
and those who forsake the LORD shall be consumed.
29You shall be ashamed of the sacred oaks in which you delighted,
and your shame for the gardens you chose shall make you blush.
30You shall become like an oak whose leaf is withered;
like a garden that has no water.
31The strong shall become weak. Their work will be no more than a spark.
They and their work shall burn together with no one to save them.
We come now to the second longest book in the Bible, and to the first of the purely prophetic books. The book of Isaiah covers a long period of time. The chronology presented in verse 1 has him prophesying in the southern kingdom of Judah for 60 years or more. King Uzziah’s rule began about 792 B.C. and King Hezekiah’s rule ended around 686 B.C. We have, of course, met Isaiah before. His relationship with Hezekiah was well chronicled (see 2 Kings 19-20 and 2 Chronicles 32:20, 32). He was mentioned only once in the record of Uzziah’s reign (2 Chronicles 26:22) and not at all in the records of the reigns of Jotham (ruled 750-732 B.C.) and Ahaz (ruled 732-716 B.C. — there is some overlap in the records and the exact dates of their reigns are a matter of considerable debate).
It is instructive to go back and read 2 Chronicles 26 for the record of Uzziah’s reign.
2-10: The words God speaks through Isaiah are not words of affirmation or encouragement but rather words of disappointment and judgment. The nation is sinful; that is why they are in such a quandary and have been ravaged by neighboring enemies. The situation described here is in keeping with what we read in 2 Kings about the decline of Judah during that period.
11-17: God no longer accepts their sacrifices and wants them to cease because their behavior is not in keeping with the spirit of worship. Before God will acknowledge their offerings, they must stop doing evil and treat the underprivileged with compassion. “Do good; seek justice; rescue those who are oppressed; defend the orphans; plead on behalf of the widows.”
18-20: If they would only begin to show compassion to those who are cast off, then their transgressions would be forgiven and forgotten. If not, God is going to turn his back while the nations devour them.
21-26: Jerusalem has become a completely degenerate city, and God intends to let his anger pour over them. Notice that now it is not just other nations that will punish them, but God says, “I will turn my hand against you.”
27-31: Still, God has no notion of allowing Jerusalem and Mt. Zion to be totally destroyed. Justice and righteousness will ultimately prevail, but those who have worshiped wooden idols (“the sacred oaks in which you delighted”) will be to God no more than logs thrown on the fire.
The book of Isaiah begins with a bang. God is not at all happy with Israel. Indeed, their behavior has been so disappointing God has had enough of them. Are we any better? Is our behavior during the week in keeping with what we claim to believe on Sunday? Have we lived up to what we claim to believe? What changes do we need to make to bring our lives up to God’s expectations?