Intro: It is fascinating how the words of the prophets of the OT are so applicable to the lives of God’s people in every age. It is truly a living word. Some of this may be because we are not much different from those who have come before us. God’s people still struggle with the same sins, and face the same challenges. Consider Isaiah 1.
I. Jehovah’s Indictment: This first sermon by the prophet is a scathing indictment against His people. Isaiah prophesied about 700 years before Christ, and outlined the reasons for God’s coming punishment of Israel. He exposed their idolatry and rebellion. But this first sermon focuses on the futility of their worship.
A. Isaiah begins by exposing the rebellion of Judah. V. 2 – They have rebelled against Me. Are things really that bad? The prophet leaves no doubt where the nation stands before God. The language is strong: V. 4 – Sinful nation, A people laden with iniquity, A brood of evildoers, Children who are corrupters! They have forsaken the Lord, They have provoked to anger The Holy One of Israel, They have turned away backward.
B. Isaiah confronts Judah with a serious insult to the nation, calling them spiritually Sodom and Gomorrah in v. 9-10: rulers of Sodom… people of Gomorrah. The people were as offensive to God as those wicked cities whom he had destroyed.
C. Unacceptable Worship: God was displeased with what His people were doing in their worship. This was the place where they felt most confident before Him. Isa 1:11-15 – “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?” Says the Lord. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, Or of lambs or goats. 12 “When you come to appear before Me, Who has required this from your hand, To trample My courts? 13 Bring no more futile sacrifices; Incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies — I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. 14 Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; They are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood.
1. Isaiah describes Israel’s worship as an incessant noise to the Lord (tired of bearing with it); Their offerings were worthless (why are you bringing them?) Their incense was an abomination (that which God hates.)
2. This is an intriguing indictment, since God was the One who had commanded Judah to offer burnt offerings, sacrifices, keep the Sabbaths, and the feasts. Now He tells them He does not delight in their offerings and wants them to stop!
D. There is worship that God does not delight in, does not want, and will not accept. Worship that is for us, for our joy, and for our pleasure is not worship at all. Only acts that are for God, his joy, and his pleasure are worthy to be called worship.
E. Why does God hate their worship? Isaiah explains that the people were coming to God in worship while their lives were punctuated with wickedness. Their unconfessed, unrepentant sins made their worship intolerable to God.
1. In verse 23 He says, Isaiah 1:23 – 23 Your princes are rebellious, And companions of thieves; Everyone loves bribes, And follows after rewards. They do not defend the fatherless, Nor does the cause of the widow come before them”. God connects what cannot be separated by men. Morality & Worship. What you do on Monday – Saturday gives validation to what you do on Sunday. The daily immorality of God’s people made their worship an abomination.
2. This points directly to the ability of God to see the heart of those who come to Him. All God saw was their blood-stained hands. It is quite possible for our worship to be an abomination to Jehovah for precisely the same reasons. We do not see ourselves with bloody hands, but one does not have to take physical life to be guilty of murder. Jesus says that if we are angry with our brother and call him contemptuous names that we are guilty of “killing” (Matt. 5:21-22). John says, “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him”(I John 3:15). The connection between literal murder and the attitude that precedes it, is the heart of this indictment: God is displeased with both equally. They both disrupt our worship and fellowship with Him.
3. Isaiah goes on to describe the selfish leadership of Israel, who were taking bribes, and oppressing the helpless widows and orphans. Could these sins of daily injustice be undone with a sacrificed lamb or a ritual of cleansing? No – the worship only accentuated the sin!
II. Jehovah’s Remedy: Isa 1:16-17 – 16 “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, 17 Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow.
A. “Wash yourselves. Make yourselves clean” – ironically this was the reason they came to the temple withtheir sacrifice. They were seeking to be clean in a ceremonial sense. But God was calling for a cleansing of the heart, and inward change that demanded “putting away the evil of your doing before My eyes”. Clean it up where I am looking. This call for confession and repentance was a call for personal justice and righteousness- “Cease to do evil”
• Eph 4:31-32 – Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. …Eph 5:2-5 – And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. 3 But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; 4 neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. 5 For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
B. Learn to do good: We must not just quit our meanness; we must do well. Verse 17 lists four things we must learn to do: Seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge, and the fatherless, and plead for the widows. These were the specific counterparts to the evil God had exposed in them. When God exposes our hypocrisy and evil in his word, we must strive to replace it with good. Col 3:8-10– But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, 10 and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him,
III. “Come now, let us reason together” Isa 1:18-20 – Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, You shall eat the good of the land; 20 But if you refuse and rebel, You shall be devoured by the sword”; For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
A. What is the most popular application of these words from Isaiah 1:18?
1. I have seen these words used to encourage dialogue between differing people with a desire to create unity or consensus. Let’s get together and talk it over. We can come to an agreement. I have seen these words attributed to Lyndon Johnson during his presidency, calling for a greater dialogue concerning racial division. Certainly people need to talk to each other, with a desire to get along. But that is not what Isaiah is talking about here.
2. We often see this used as an invitation to people to study the Bible. It frequently appears as a motto at the bottom of church ads in newspapers, on bill boards, and on business cards of preachers. We would not at all discourage any Christian from inviting others to study with him; in fact, he should be encouraged to do it. But that is not what Isaiah is talking about here.
3. The words of Isa. 1:18 are actually a challenge to Israel to a formal trial. One expositor has called this chapter “a trial at law” but he suggests that it is far more a personal than a legal controversy.
a. Delitzsch states that the Hebrew word here is used in a reciprocal sense, and with the same meaning as the word used in Isaiah 43:26 – 26 Put Me in remembrance; Let us contend together; State your case, that you may be acquitted.
b. The idea is, that like a court of justice, the parties reciprocally state the grounds of their cause. God challenges His people to meet with Him and test their case in court.
c. God has examined Israel’s sins and now He offers His compassion. God’s verdict is “guilty” but the nation has the option of returning to Jehovah. Israel has all to gain and nothing to lose by returning to Jehovah. She would lose everything by being rebellious and disobedient. This is what Israel must consider. It is acquittal or condemnation, depending upon Israel’s decision. Israel is worthy of death. Yet, Jehovah does not treat Israel according to His retributive justice, but according to His free compassion.
d. If they repent and return, their sins, even though they are as red as scarlet (no doubt as to their guilt – blood on their hands), they can be as white (clean) as snow!
e. Jehovah accommodates their differences with the words: “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” This is the overture of mercy extended to a sinful nation if it will only repent.
f. The offer to come and reason (plead) was extended by God to man. This was not an invitation from one man to another man. Our reasoning together and coming to an agreement has limited value. It may have no value at all. But to be in agreement with God is everything. And God invites me to come to Him.