Summary: In light of God’s Word, we need to examine how well we are doing in the area not only of providing care for the needy, but of defending their cause and seeing that their voice is heard.

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Isaiah 1:21-26 Purging the Dross

7/9/00 D. Marion Clark


What we come to the Bible for is content. We value the Bible for what it has to reveal to us from God. But then there are times when you just can help but admire the way it is written. Isaiah is the acclaimed writer among the prophets not only for the content of his vision, but for the sheer skill in which he wrote. We see that skill at work in this passage.

Bible commentator, Alec Motyer, shows the carefully balanced pattern of this poetic prophecy.

A. The Collapse of the Faithful City

21 See how the faithful city

has become a harlot!

B. Past and Present Contrasted: Justice Replaced by Murder

She once was full of justice;

righteousness used to dwell in her—

but now murderers!

C. Metaphor: Values Turned to Dross

22 Your silver has become dross,

your choice wine is diluted with water.

D. The Corrupt Rulers

23 Your rulers are rebels,

companions of thieves;

they all love bribes

and chase after gifts.

They do not defend the cause of the fatherless;

the widow’s case does not come before them.

You can see the descent. The once faithful city of Jerusalem has become a harlot. Once filled with justice, she is now filled with murderers; her purity has become sullied with dross; her rulers are corrupt. Now observe the ascent.

D. The Sovereign God

24 Therefore the Lord, the LORD Almighty,

the Mighty One of Israel, declares:

“Ah, I will get relief from my foes

and avenge myself on my enemies.

C. Metaphor: Dross Purged

25 I will turn my hand against you;

I will thoroughly purge away your dross

and remove all your impurities.

B. Past and Future Identified: Justice Restored in True Judges

26 I will restore your judges as in days of old,

your counselors as at the beginning.

A. The Restoration of the Faithful City

Afterward you will be called

the City of Righteousness,

the Faithful City.”

In contrast to the corrupt rulers who will not take up justice for the weak, God will act justly against the wicked and the corrupt rulers. He will purge away the dross. He will restore just judges in place of the murderers. Jerusalem will again be a faithful city to God.

Another commentator, Derek Kidner, notes the intentional use of metaphors. “The theme is vanished glory; even the metaphors for it tail off from the tragic to the trivial (wife…silver…wine.)

And then note the larger pattern of the chapter up to this passage. In verses 2-9, there is a look only to this past – God’s preservation; in verses 10-20, there is a future, but one which could go for good or ill based on the people’s response; in verses 21-26, we are given a glorious future. Israel goes from barely surviving to a possible good future to a certain good future.


That’s good news for Judah and Jerusalem, but, meanwhile, let’s consider the concern of God regarding his nation. His concern is about justice, or rather, the lack of it. Justice is what is missing and is what God wants.

Jerusalem is a harlot because she is no longer a dwelling place for justice. The silver and wine are defiled because of unjust rulers. She will be called a Faithful City after God restores to her just judges.

What is God thinking of when he thinks about justice? He could pick out any number of unjust acts. Here what he focuses on is the failure to defend the cause of the unprotected, viz., orphans and widows.

17 Seek justice,

encourage the oppressed.

Defend the cause of the fatherless,

plead the case of the widow.

23 They do not defend the cause of the fatherless;

the widow’s case does not come before them.

Note the term “fatherless.” An orphan, by definition, was one who was fatherless. Even if the mother is still living, he is still regarded an orphan because of the protection removed from him.

The problem was not a lack of laws to protect the widows and orphans:

22 “Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. 23 If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. 24 My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless (Exodus 22:22).

17 Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. 18 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this.

19 When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. 21 When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow (Deuteronomy 24:17-21).

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