Summary: The calling out of the Remnant.
A REASONABLE OFFER
The opening of this wonderful Book of Isaiah introduces us to a Ministry which, on a conservative estimate, spanned some 64 years. The first verse (Isaiah 1:1) tells us of (I) its Divine authorship: it was a “vision”; (II) its human authorship: Isaiah, son of Amoz (not to be confused with Amos, this Amoz was possibly a member of the Royal Family of Judah); (III) the kings who reigned during the period of the prophet’s time of writing: beginning perhaps ‘in the year that King Uzziah died’ (Isaiah 6:1), and ending, according to tradition, with his being ‘sawn in two’ by bad king Manasseh after the death of good king Hezekiah (cf. Hebrews 11:37).
The following verses demonstrate the rebelliousness of God’s own people (Isaiah 1:2); their failure to consider the implications of belonging to God (Isaiah 1:3); an indictment of their sinful backsliding (Isaiah 1:4); a demonstration of the terrible suffering which sin brings (Isaiah 1:5-6); and the utter desolation to which sin ultimately and inevitably leads (Isaiah 1:7-8). Then, at last, the word ‘Except’ introduces the hope of the Gospel: God’s grace in preserving a remnant to Himself (Isaiah 1:9a). Without it there would be no way out of man’s plight: ‘we should have been as Sodom, we should have been like unto Gomorrah’ (Isaiah 1:9b).
Then Isaiah addresses his congregation as “rulers of Sodom” and “people of Gomorrah”, and begins to reason with them (Isaiah 1:10). It is all quite shocking: how dare he expose our comfortable, upright congregation to such strong language? After all, we all think we know what Sodom and Gomorrah stand for…
But let’s stop right there. What is it about Sodom and Gomorrah that God condemned in the first instant? Even before the angels arrived with the announcement of the judgment and were treated so vilely (Genesis 19:4-7), the Bible says, ‘the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the LORD exceedingly’ (Genesis 13:13). The LORD’s own indictment against them is this: ‘Pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty and committed abomination before Me’ (Ezekiel 16:49-50). And He accuses His people of being like them: ‘They commit adultery and walk in lies: they strengthen the hands of evildoers, that none doth return from his wickedness’ (Jeremiah 23:14).
In effect, Isaiah calls his congregation to Repentance: “Hear the word of the LORD”; “give ear unto the law of our God” (Isaiah 1:10)! What is interesting is that this could apply to any congregation, in any time. We could be so satisfied with our religiosity that we fail to realise that it does not impress the LORD at all. God-given ordinances can so easily be reduced to mere formality: to the point that the LORD rejects them (Isaiah 1:11-15).
After all, obedience is better than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22; Hosea 6:6). Man is more interested in outward things, but only the LORD looks on the heart (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7). “Bring no more vain oblations,” says the LORD, “it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting” (Isaiah 1:13).
Again comes the call to Repentance. It is in terms of washing yourself; of making yourself clean; of putting away the evil of your doings; of ceasing to do evil; of learning to do well; of seeking justice; of relieving the oppressed; doing right by the orphans; pleading for widows (Isaiah 1:16-17).
Yet if we have learned anything at all it is that, outside of Christ, we can do none of these things. Even our very best efforts fall far short of the mark. The law has been constantly demanding these things of us, but who can ever pass the Grade in God’s school?
It is at this point that the Gospel appears, in all its glory. “Come now, and let us reason together,” says the LORD (Isaiah 1:18). All our do-it-yourself religion is doomed to failure. It is not our work that counts, but the work of Christ: “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
‘Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean,’ says the Psalmist: ‘wash me and I shall be whiter than snow’ (Psalms 51:7). There is a fountain opened on Calvary’s hill, for sin and for uncleanness (cf. Zechariah 13:1). It is there that our robes are ‘washed white in the blood of the Lamb’ (Revelation 7:14).
In other words, we are encouraged to cast ourselves, wholly and entirely, upon God’s mercy. Ours is a reasonable faith, and if we be “willing and obedient” then it will be well for us (Isaiah 1:19). But if any should persist in their refusal and continue to rebel, then they shall be devoured. “The mouth of the LORD has spoken it” (Isaiah 1:20).