Isaiah 1 – Indictment and Invitation
A. God states His case and offers a cure.
1. (1) Introduction: The vision of Isaiah, son of Amoz.
The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
a. The vision of Isaiah: This book contains the prophecies of Isaiah, the son of Amoz, who ministered from about 740 to 680 b.c. For about 20 years, he spoke to both the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. After Israel’s fall to the Assyrians in 722 b.c., Isaiah continued to prophesy to Judah.
i. This period of Israel’s history is told in 2 Kings 15 through 21 and 2 Chronicles 26 through 33. Isaiah was a contemporary of the prophets Hosea and Micah. By the time of Isaiah, the prophets Elijah, Elisha, Obadiah, Joel, Jonah, and Amos had already completed their ministry.
ii. By this time, Israel had been in the Promised Land for almost 700 years. For their first 400 years in Canaan, judges ruled Israel. These were spiritual, military, and political leaders whom God raised up as the occasion demanded. Then, for about 120 years, three kings reigned over all Israel: Saul, David, and Solomon. But in 917 b.c. Israel had a civil war and remained divided into two nations, Israel (to the north) and Judah (to the south) up until the time of Isaiah.
iii. Up until the time of Isaiah, the kingdom of Israel – the northern ten tribes – had some 18 kings, all of them bad and rebellious against the Lord. The kingdom of Judah – the two southern tribes – had some 11 kings before Isaiah’s ministry, some good and some bad.
iv. In the time of Isaiah, Israel was a little nation often caught in the middle of the wars between three superpowers: Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon.
v. As Isaiah’s ministry began, there was a national crisis in the northern kingdom of Israel. The superpower of Assyria was about to overwhelm the kingdom of Israel. During the span of Isaiah’s ministry as a prophet, the southern kingdom of Judah was faced with repeated threats from the larger surrounding nations.
vi. Many modern scholars think that there was more than one author to the book of Isaiah. They use terms like “Deutero-Isaiah” and “Trito-Isaiah” or the “Isaianic School.” Sometimes more than one author is supposed for the book of Isaiah because of changes of style and tone, and sometimes as a denial of Isaiah as predictive prophecy.
vii. However, the New Testament indicates that there was only one author of Isaiah. In John 12:37-41, John quotes from both the “first” part of Isaiah and the “second” part of Isaiah – the parts supposedly written by two or more different Isaiahs – and John specifically tells us it was the same Isaiah. The New Testament quotes Isaiah by name more than all the other prophetic authors combined.
viii. The book of Isaiah is filled with many wonderful prophecies of the Messiah, telling us about the person and work of Jesus Christ some seven hundred years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. For this reason, sometimes Isaiah is called “The Fifth Gospel.”
b. Isaiah, son of Amoz: The name Isaiah means Salvation is of the Lord. There are at least seven men by the name of Isaiah in the Bible, but only one is Isaiah, the son of Amoz.
i. Some have thought that Amoz and the prophet Amos were the same person, but this seems unlikely. Some ancient Jewish traditions say that Amoz was a brother of king Amaziah, but there is no biblical way to prove this.
ii. We know more about Isaiah than we do about many other of the prophets. Isaiah was married and was the father of at least two sons (Isaiah 7:3 and 8:3). He lived in Jerusalem (Isaiah 7:3, 22:1, 37:2, 38:5, and 39:3).
iii. There is “a strong Judeo-Christian tradition that holds that Isaiah also outlived Hezekiah and was sawn asunder by his successor Manasseh with a wooden saw after the prophet had hidden himself in a hollow tree from the angry king.” (Bultema) Many think Hebrews 11:37 (they were sawn in two) is a reference to the martyrdom of Isaiah.
iv. Most of all, Isaiah was a great man of God. Isaiah “has the courage of a Daniel, the sensitivity of a Jeremiah, the pathos of a Hosea, and the raging anger of an Amos; and moreover he leaves all of them far behind in the unique art of holy mockery. His courage is of such a nature that he never, not even for a moment, shows himself to be weak or timid.” (Bultema)
c. In the days of: The prophecy of this chapter probably took place in the time of Ahaz, king of Judah (2 Kings 16 and 2 Chronicles 28). Ahaz was an evil king, and in his reign Judah was invaded many times by surrounding nations.
2. (2-4) The complaint of the Lord against Judah.
Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth!
For the Lord has spoken:
“I have nourished and brought up children,
And they have rebelled against Me;
The ox knows its owner
And the donkey its master’s crib;
But Israel does not know,
My people do not consider.”
Alas, 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.
a. Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: God called heaven and earth as witnesses against Judah. The leaders and people of Judah had resisted His will, and God now stated His case against them. We might think of heaven and earth as a “jury” that God presented the case before.
i. Romans 8:22 says, For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Creation is waiting for the deliverance that will come when the Messiah rules directly over all creation. When God’s people disobey, we might say there is a sense in which they “delay” that resolution of all things. So, heaven and earth have an interest in our obedience.
b. I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me: The leaders and people of Judah were like rebellious children, who never appreciated all that their parents did for them.
i. As parents, we can appreciate how frustrating and galling it is for our children to disregard and disobey us. It fills us with righteous indignation, and we think, “After all I have done for them, they treat me like this?” But we have treated God even worse than any child has treated their parents.
c. The ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know: The leaders and people of Judah were not like dumb animals, such as the ox or the donkey. They were dumber than dumb animals. The ox at least knows its owner, but Judah didn’t know who owned them. The donkey knows who takes care of him, but Judah didn’t know who took care of them.
i. No animal has ever offended or resisted or rejected or disobeyed God the way every human being has. Any animal is a more faithful servant of God than the best human.
d. Alas, sinful nation: God clearly and strongly exposed their sin. They were laden with iniquity, a brood of evildoers, and they had provoked the Lord to anger.
3. (5-9) The desperate condition of Judah.
Why should you be stricken again?
You will revolt more and more.
The whole head is sick,
And the whole heart faints.
From the sole of the foot even to the head,
There is no soundness in it,
But wounds and bruises and putrefying sores;
They have not been closed or bound up,
Or soothed with ointment.
Your country is desolate,
Your cities are burned with fire;
Strangers devour your land in your presence;
And it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.
So the daughter of Zion is left as a booth in a vineyard,
As a hut in a garden of cucumbers,
As a besieged city.
Unless the Lord of hosts
Had left to us a very small remnant,
We would have become like Sodom,
We would have been made like Gomorrah.
a. Why should you be stricken again? Despite their sin, God did not wish evil upon Judah. Instead, He longed for them to repent and to make it easy on themselves. God had chastised Judah, and they did not respond. They would continue to be stricken as long as they rebelled.
b. Sick…the whole heart faints…. no soundness…wounds and bruises and putrefying sores: Because of their rebellion against God, Judah was in a bad place. This is where their disobedience and lack of submission brought them.
c. Your country is desolate, your cities burned with fire; strangers devour your land in your presence: During the reign of Ahaz, the kingdom of Judah was attacked and pillaged by Israel, Syria, Edom, the Philistines, and Assyria (2 Chronicles 28). It was written of this period, For the Lord brought Judah low because of Ahaz king of Israel, for he had encouraged moral decline in Judah and had been continually unfaithful to the Lord (2 Chronicles 28:19).
i. For all this, Judah would not repent. Their sin brought them great trouble, but they still preferred their sin, with all of its trouble, than submitting to the Lord God. In fact, 2 Chronicles 28:22 says, Now in the time of his distress King Ahaz became increasingly unfaithful to the Lord.
d. Unless the Lord of hosts had left to us a very small remnant, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been made like Gomorrah: As bad as Judah’s state was because of their sin, it could have been worse. It was only by the mercy of God that they survived at all. Sodom and Gomorrah were both totally destroyed, with not even a very small remnant to carry on. Even in the midst of judgment, God showed His mercy to Judah.
4. (10-15) God hates their empty religious ceremonies.
Hear the word of the Lord,
You rulers of Sodom;
Give ear to the law of our God,
You people of Gomorrah:
“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.
When you come to appear before Me,
Who has required this from your hand,
To trample My courts?
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.
Your New Moons and your appointed feasts
My soul hates;
They are a trouble to Me,
I am weary of bearing them.
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.”
a. You rulers of Sodom…you people of Gomorrah: God was obviously trying to get the attention of the leaders and people of Judah. He did this by associating them with two cities synonymous with sin and judgment.
b. To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me? Even in the midst of their rebellion, Judah continued its religious ceremony and ritual. They continued the sacrifices, they continued the burnt offerings, they continued offering the fat of fed cattle, they continued burning incense, they continued their assemblies and their sacred meetings – and God was sick of them all.
i. See how the Lord describes His reaction to these religious rituals: I have had enough…. bring no more futile sacrifices…an abomination to Me…. I cannot endure…My soul hates…they are a trouble to Me…I am weary of bearing them.
ii. This is a sobering thought. We can offer God all kinds of religious rituals and ceremonies, all kinds of religious service, and He may hate it and consider it an abomination! Perhaps, in the midst of all their calamity (described in Isaiah 1:5-9), Judah thought the answer was in religious ceremonies, in their ancient version of “church attendance” and a few dollars in the offering. But if their heart wasn’t changed, and humbled, and surrendered to the Lord it made no difference. Without the right heart, God hated their religious ceremony and service.
iii. “When sinners are under the judgments of God they will more easily be brought to fly to their devotions than to forsake their sins and reform their lives.” (Matthew Henry)
c. When you spread out your hands: This was the posture of prayer in that ancient culture. Instead of praying with heads bowed and hands folded, they would pray with the face turned towards heaven and the hands spread out to heaven. So, when they prayed, the Lord says, “I will hide my eyes from you…I will not hear.”
i. We may be certain, that in the midst of all this religious ceremony, there were many fine prayers offered. Many eloquent, stirring, and emotional prayers were said. But they were empty, hollow, useless prayers, because God looked at Judah and said, “Your hands are full of blood.”
5. (16-20) The Lord offers a cure.
“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.
Cease to do evil,
Learn to do good;
Rebuke the oppressor;
Defend the fatherless,
Plead for the widow.
“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.
If you are willing and obedient,
You shall eat the good of the land;
But if you refuse and rebel,
You shall be devoured by the sword”;
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
a. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean…. Learn to do good, seek justice, rebuke the oppressor, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow: The corruption of Judah’s leaders and people was shown in their bad treatment of one another.
i. Many centuries later, the apostle John repeated the sense of Isaiah’s message: If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? (1 John 4:20) The leaders and people of Judah wanted to say they loved God by their religious ceremonies, but the Lord cared more about how they treated other people, especially the weak (the fatherless…the widow).
b. “Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord: The Lord God invites His people to come reason with Him. What He offers us isn’t just offered because He is greater than us and has the right to dictate whatever terms please Him. God’s direction for us is reasonable. It is smart. It is the best way to live.
i. It is madness to reject and resist a God of infinite wisdom, infinite love, infinite grace, and infinite power. True reason will drive any honest man to the humblest adoration and submission towards God.
ii. The angels surrounding the throne of God are covered with eyes, which speaks of their great ability to perceive and know (Revelation 4:6-8). These are perhaps the most intelligent, rational beings God ever created, and they spend every moment of their existence lost in total praise, total adoration, and total surrender to God. This is where the highest reason will drive us.
iii. It is just plain reasonable to follow God. Have you ever once heard of an old Christian, on their deathbed, gathering their children and friends around, and saying: “Now friends, watch out for that Christianity! I’ve followed Jesus my whole life and I’m so sorry I did! What a waste that was!” What nonsense! Quite the contrary, we find that Christians on their deathbed are trusting and loving God more than ever. It’s just plain reasonable.
c. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool: The Lord offered a repentant, humbled Judah true and complete cleansing from sin. Their condition of sin could be transformed from deeply stained to become completely white.
i. In this passage, Isaiah says nothing about how this cleansing comes. But we know that it comes because Jesus took upon Himself our stain of sin, and God judged sin perfectly and completely in Jesus, so we can be accounted white as snow and as white as wool.
ii. There is tremendous hope in God’s forgiveness! We really can be clean from the stain of sin. Our good works can’t clean the stain. Our best intentions or promises can’t clean the stain. Our suffering or pain can’t clean the stain. Time can’t clean the stain. Death can’t clean the stain. Only the work of Jesus can make us white as snow! We really can have a break with the past, and a new beginning in Jesus Christ. The power of sin, the shame of sin, the guilt of sin, the domination of sin, the terror of sin, and the pain of sin can all be taken away in Jesus.
iii. “The Lord does not deny the truth of what the sinner has confessed, but he says to him, ‘Though your sins be as scarlet, I meet you on that ground. You need not try to diminish the extent of your sin, or seek to make it appear to be less than it really is. No; whatever you say it is, it is all that, and probably far more. Your deepest sense of your sinfulness does not come up to the truth concerning your real condition; certainly, you do not exaggerate in the least. Your sins are scarlet, and crimson; it seems as though you have put on the imperial robe of sin, and made yourself a monarch of the realm of evil.’ That is how a man’s guilt appears before the searching eye of God.” (Spurgeon)
iv. Spurgeon described people deeply stained by sin: “A wicked old wretch who has taken his degrees in Satan’s college, has become a Master of Belial, a prince and chief of sinners – a Goliath amongst the Philistines – yet, to such a man, is this word sent today. Your hands are bloody with the souls of the young, you have kept a hellhouse; you have grit up public entertainments which have debauched and depraved the young; you have gold in your pocket to-day, which you have earned by the blood of souls; you have the fool’s pence, and the drunkard’s shillings, which have really come into your hands from the hearts of poor women, you have heard the cries of the starving children, and you have tempted their husbands to take the drink, and ruined their bodies and their souls. You have kept a place where the entertainment was so low, so grovelling, that you awoke the slumbering passions of evil in the minds of either young or old, and so you shall sink to hell with the blood of others on your head, as well as your own damnation, not with one millstone about your neck, but with many.” All this may be true of you; yet God can forgive your sins and you can be made white as snow.
d. Come now: When we consider the greatness of God’s cleansing and pardon, it is all the more reason for us to come now. God wants the separation between you and He to be gone now. He doesn’t want you to continue in your destructive path another moment. He wants the best for us now.
i. “Come now, no season can be better. If ye tardy till you’re better, ye will never come at all. Come now; you may never have another warning; the heart may never be so tender as it is to-day. Come now; no other eyes may ever weep over you; no other heart may ever agonise for your salvation. Come now, now, now, for tomorrow you may never know in this world. Death may have sealed your fate, and the once filthy may remain filthy still. Come now; for to-morrow thy heart may become harder than stone, and God may give thee up. Come now; it is God’s time; to-morrow is the devil’s time. ‘To-day if ye will hear his voice harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, when your fathers tempted me and proved me in the wilderness and saw my works.’ Come now. Why delay to be happy? Would you put off your wedding-day? Will you postpone the hour when you are pardoned and delivered? Come now: the bowels of Jehovah yearn for you. The eye of your father sees you afar off, and he runs to meet you. Come now; the church is praying for you; these are revival times; ministers are more in earnest.” (Spurgeon)
e. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword: Here God offered Judah a choice. They could find hope in the midst of their chastisement, relief from empty religious ritual, and cleansing from their sin. But they had to surrender their heart before God, and not refuse and rebel. Instead, they had to be willing and obedient.
i. No one perfectly matches either phrase, but which phrase better describes your life? Is it willing and obedient or refuse and rebel? There is a consequence for either course: eat of the good of the land or be devoured by the sword. No wonder the Lord said, “Come now, let us reason together!”
B. A promise of redemption – with justice.
1. (21-23) The unjust leaders of Judah.
How the faithful city has become a harlot!
It was full of justice;
Righteousness lodged in it,
But now murderers.
Your silver has become dross,
Your wine mixed with water.
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.
a. The faithful city has become a harlot: The faithful city was Jerusalem, the city once known for its faithfulness to the Lord. Now, Jerusalem has become a harlot – spiritually speaking, they have forsaken their “marriage” to the Lord and are committing spiritual adultery with their idolatry.
b. It was full of justice: The days of justice and righteousness were long past in Jerusalem. Now the city was filled with murderers, political corruption (Your princes are rebellious), thieves, fraud (Your silver has become dross, your wine mixed with water), bribes, and favoritism against the weak (They do not defend the fatherless, nor does the cause of the widow come before them).
i. The Lord’s accusation against Jerusalem shows, by contrast, what God values among political and civil leaders. God expects them to keep the peace (against murderers), have integrity (instead of being rebellious and the companion of thieves), and to defend the weak (the fatherless and widows).
ii. Your wine mixed with water: “The Lord Jesus made water into wine; sinners make wine into water.” (Bultema)
iii. The spiritual adultery of Judah showed itself in this kind of sin. In a sense, the corruption among the leaders of Judah was a symptom of an even deeper spiritual problem.
2. (24-31) The Lord’s plan of redemption with justice
Therefore the Lord says,
The Lord of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel,
“Ah, I will rid Myself of My adversaries,
And take vengeance on My enemies.
I will turn My hand against you,
And thoroughly purge away your dross,
And take away all your alloy.
I will restore your judges as at the first,
And your counselors as at the beginning.
Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.”
Zion shall be redeemed with justice,
And her penitents with righteousness.
The destruction of transgressors and of sinners shall be together,
And those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed.
For they shall be ashamed of the terebinth trees which you have desired;
And you shall be embarrassed because of the gardens
Which you have chosen.
For you shall be as a terebinth whose leaf fades,
And as a garden that has no water.
The strong shall be as tinder,
And the work of it as a spark;
Both will burn together,
And no one shall quench them.
a. The Lord of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel: God now addresses Judah, introducing Himself with titles showing His power and majesty. He is the Lord of hosts, “hosts” referring to the armies of heaven. He is the Mighty One of Israel, whom it is futile to oppose. The title itself is a wake-up call.
i. Bultema on the Lord of hosts: “Describes Him as the Warrior who has all the angels as mighty soldiers at His disposal in the battle against the wicked. This is God’s battle name and as a rule it signifies little good when He uses it in reference to His people, as is the case here. It usually implies that He considers and deals with His people as His enemies.”
b. I will rid Myself of My adversaries: The problem with the leaders and people of Judah was that they had set themselves as adversaries of the Lord. They were acting like His enemies. They were putting themselves in the path of judgment. They would find the hand of the Lordagainst them, instead of for them.
c. And thoroughly purge away your dross, and take away all your alloy: Dross and alloy are impurities in metal. God promised to “turn up the heat” and refine Judah, taking away their impurities. His goal was not to destroy; instead He says, “I will restore.” God will purify Jerusalem, to the point where Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.
d. Zion shall be redeemed with justice: God’s redemption and restoration are always done with justice and righteousness. He never saves or redeems at the expense of His justice and righteousness.
e. They shall be ashamed of the terebinth trees which you have desired: These terebinth trees were sites of pagan worship which idol-loving Judah kept among them. When Zion is redeemed with justice, they would be ashamed of their former idolatries.
i. It is good to be ashamed and embarrassed over sin. There is something wrong with us when we are shameless or beyond embarrassment. God promised He would give Judah the gift of shame and embarrassment over sin again.
ii. “Sacred trees played an important part in the Canaanite fertility cult…for deciduous trees like the oak or terebinth may well have symbolized the death and rebirth of the god. The ‘gardens’ may be groves of these trees, or, alternatively, places of sacred springs or wells.” (Grogan)
f. As a terebinth tree whose leaf fades…as a garden that has no water…. The strong shall be as tinder…both will burn together: The Lord spoke here of the spiritual dryness of Judah. Though they continued their religious ritual and ceremony, they were still spiritually dry. And as dry trees, dry gardens, and dry tinder are ready to burn, so was an unrepentant Judah ready to feel the fires of God’s refining judgment.
(c) 2021 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org