Summary: God says, make yourselves clean. And he furthermore holds out the promise that we really can become clean.
Isaiah 1:10-20 Come, Let Us Reason
7/2/00e D. Marion Clark
We are finally getting back to Isaiah. If you can recall four weeks back, God was rather upset with Israel. When I use the term Israel, by the way, I am using the covenant name for God’s people. Isaiah is actually preaching in and most to Judah, but he will often refer to the country with the covenant name of Israel. Anyhow, God is upset because his covenant people have rebelled against him persisting in sin.
After a quote from God complaining about Israel in verses 2 and 3, Isaiah bemoans the sin and condition of his nation, concluding with this observation in verse 9:
9 Unless the LORD Almighty
had left us some survivors,
we would have become like Sodom,
we would have been like Gomorrah.
God’s chastisement was so severe that, if he had not checked his punishment, Israel would have been as thoroughly destroyed as Sodom and Gomorrah, the two cities obliterated in the book of Genesis. The mention of those two cities set up Isaiah’s introduction to the next portion of his message from God.
The Insult 10
Have you ever been insulted? I mean really insulted. Someone calls you by the most offensive term to you or refers to you in the most despicable image you could imagine. If so, you might be able to understand the insult that Israel receives from God.
10 Hear the word of the LORD,
you rulers of Sodom;
listen to the law of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
Before, Isaiah compared the devastation Israel received to that of Sodom and Gomorrah. Here he calls both Israel’s rulers and Israel’s people by the names of the cities that embody the ultimate in degradation. That Israel was not destroyed was not due to the people being less sinful than the degraded citizens of those wicked cities, but to God’s mercy. In truth, the people of God’s covenant were just as offensive.
God Offended 11-15
In these next verses, which further express how offended God is by his people, we are made to understand what their sin and rebellion was not. The people had not abandoned the worship of God. They had not, at least consciously rejected God and his Law. Indeed, they would have considered themselves rather faithful in their observing the religious laws of the covenant. They are bringing sacrifices to the Temple, good ones too – animals fattened specifically for sacrifice. Hebrews 10:22 says, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. They were shedding lots of blood through their sacrifices. They attended the Temple frequently and participated faithfully in the religious celebrations established by the law of Moses. They regularly prayed. The practice of religion was as strong as ever, and God hated it.
11 “The multitude of your sacrifices—
what are they to me?” says the LORD.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
But, God, you commanded these sacrifices.
12 When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
Trampling of courts? You are the one who asked us to come.
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your evil assemblies.
14 Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts
my soul hates.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
What do you mean “evil assemblies”? These are the assemblies you appointed. Keeping the Sabbath is your command.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even if you offer many prayers,
I will not listen.
But you have always wanted us to pray to you. You hate when we worship other gods; why will you not listen when we turn to you?
Here’s why: Your hands are full of blood. God does not mean they are bloody from their sacrifices. They are bloody from the guilt of their sins, specifically the sins of violence against their neighbors. They may have the religious ceremonial laws down pat, but they grossly violate the laws of justice. As will be made clearer in the book, they cheat their neighbors; they do not defend the weak, those who are especially vulnerable to being taken advantage of; they take bribes, they steal; they lie. And then they come to church and worship.
That’s the trampling of the courts – to unashamedly worship God in his temple, all the while despising his laws of justice and mercy. That’s the meaningless offerings – sacrifices offered up for sin that in truth they treasure. That’s the evil assemblies – to celebrate the sacred festivals of God with evil hearts.