Summary: God says to make His house a house of prayer for all people but we pick and choose who is welcome in God’s house. That should not be!
We’ve all entertained in our homes at one time or another. We’ve had somebody drop by or invited someone for lunch or dinner. Maybe we’ve had people over for a weekend or longer. How do we treat visitors to our homes? We treat them pretty well don’t we? We try our best to make them feel at home, to make their visit fun, enjoyable dare I say exciting. We clean the house, make up the guest bed, and buy food we know or think that they’ll like. These things are the least we can do for somebody that we’ve invited over. How would you feel if when your company arrived your children ignored them? How would you react if your spouse wouldn’t even welcome them into your home? What if your dog bit them or chased them away? Would you be embarrassed, mad, irate?
In our Old Testament lesson for today, Isaiah writes, “This is what the Lord says, ‘Keep justice and do righteousness.’” He writes in the following verses, “For my house will be a house of prayer for all the nations.” And again, he writes, “The Sovereign Lord declares, ‘I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.” What is Isaiah talking about? What does keep justice and do righteousness mean? Isaiah actually gets very specific as to what God has in mind. He writes elsewhere, “Cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, and plead for the widow.”
But why did he write that? What connection is there between defending the orphan, pleading for the widow and God’s house being a house of prayer for all the nations? Weren’t God’s Old Testament people standing up on behalf o others and including others in their worship? Perhaps we should jump back about 2700 years to Isaiah’s time and find out what was going on.
Isaiah was sent by God as a prophet to Judah. This was ftert the nation of Israel split into two part: ten tribes in the north called Israel and tow tribes in the hs south, called Judah. Isaiah was prophesying during a particularly bad time in their history.. Two of the worst kings of Judah, Ahaz and Manasseh, were reigning during Isaiah’s ministry. Ahaz sacrificed and burned incense to other gods. He sacrificed his own son to another god. In addition, he took gold and silver from the temple and gave it to the king of Assyria to keep him from attacking Judah. Manasseh was even worse and reigned longer. He built altars for other gods throughout Judah and in the temple, sacrificed his own son, practiced witchcraft, and used mediums and spiritists.
The kings were not the only people in Judah who did evil in the sight of the Lord. Many Jews practiced the same things as did these kings. They worshipped other gods and made for themselves idols. What was particularly upsetting to God in these passages is how His chosen people treated one another, especially those who were on or near the bottom rungs of the society. He is condemning His people who don’t act like His people. He is denouncing the people who ostracize those whom He has invited to His house.
Orphans and widows were near the bottom of the social ladder. They had no legal rights. You needed an adult male as your advocate to fight for your rights. An example of this is the story of Ruth and Naomi in the book of Ruth. When Ruth’s and Naomi’s husbands die, Naomi returned to her hometown, Bethlehem. Because of the dire straits they were in, Naomi changed her name from Naomi, which means pleasant to Mara, which means bitter. She explains that the reason is that the Lord had afflicted her by taking away not just her husband but her future and her legal rights as well.
You see, the connection between keeping justice and doing righteousness and God’s house being a house of prayer for all is that God uses us to extend His love to people. He uses us to proclaim His message of love and salvation. He uses us to show compassion and kindness to those who are afflicted or mistreated. He uses us to help those who rights have been trample on. He uses us to bring people into His house and His kingdom.
In our society, who would be considered an ostracized person? Single mothers, criminals, people of another race, immigrants, welfare recipients, the jobless, someone of another religious. Who do you think?
The question then is how do we treat them? Do we follow the poor example that we often see around us? Do we do the same as the Jews did in our Old Testament lesson today? Do we give in to our human nature and treat them as we perceive them? Do we do those God-angering behaviors?