Summary: Your uttermost depths of sin can be cleansed away, but not by your actions.
Isaiah 1:18 ‘“Come now, let us reason together”, says the Lord’.
Stain devils clean clothes, Christ’s blood cleans souls.
How wrong can someone get it!
Through Isaiah, God has given a vision of condemnation, condemning a sinful and rebellious people; God’s people, Israel. Long before this time, the nation had broken into two kingdoms: Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Israel had been invaded, conquered and transported. The same had happened to most of Judah. Only the city of Jerusalem was left. It is in this scenario that God sends His prophet, Isaiah, to prophecy to the remnant of Israel and Judah.
What a start to this prophecy? Vv3 & 4.
V3: beasts know their master/Lord but Israel, the people of God, does not know its God or understand Him.
V4 they are a people loaded with guilt and spurned by the Holy One of Israel, the Almighty God.
Israel and Judah have felt the punishment of God (v5 >) but still they do not know or understand (v3) which is why God calls them a stubborn people (Hos 4:16). “The Israelites are stubborn, like a stubborn heifer”
Then we have the ultimate condemnation, and these are the words of God Himself, not those of Isaiah, (v10) “Hear the word of the Lord”. A blistering attack upon Judah, and in particular, its religious worship, its sacrificial system (vv10 – 14). An attack which is followed by an appeal for justice and obedience (v16 –20a). These two parts are linked together by what is probably one of the most awful verses of the Bible, (v15) God says “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. Your hands are full of blood;”.
What is going on?
The people of Judah, but in particular the leaders and rulers, are accused of hypocrisy in the temple of God. They come in to the temple and make sacrifices for atonement, but without any meaning. In fact, God says that He does not want the sacrifice; He wants the heart of the people. The blood of the sacrifice does not cleanse away the sin or the guilt (v4); in fact it makes it even worse. The blood sticks to their hands and cannot be removed, so that God says, “Your hands are full of blood”.
What does God mean when He says this?
1. They have not cared for the orphaned or the widowed; the vulnerable in society. God’s law in Ex 22: 22 – 24 “Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.” One of the key social laws set by God. “Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan”, do not exploit them.
2. They have not come into the house of God with repentance on their hearts. It has become a formality, make the sacrifice and go back out again and carry on sinning. Paul reminds us, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!”, “should we go on sinning to make the sacrifice of Jesus even more meaningful”; of course not we need to come with repentance in our hearts. God will become weary of endless and meaningless sacrifice from closed hearts.
V11 reminds us of Ps 51: 16, 17, “You (God) do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
The sacrifice has become revolting in the sight of our Father. To such an extent that He will hide His eyes from those who come into His House.
3. Their sacrifices have been empty and meaningless; therefore, instead of the sacrifice atoning for their sin it has actually increased their sin: they have killed the sacrificial animal needlessly, they have mocked the sacrificial system, and they have mocked God.
We need to be careful about our own life; how we spend it, and also how we come to God. Has coming to church become a mindless routine? It is a good habit to get into and Paul does remind us that we should not neglect the gathering together for worship. But has it become so mindless that it is actually a mockery of God?
When we come to God in prayers asking for forgiveness, are they meant? The Jews had a sacrifice for the sins they had committed, but there was also a general sacrifice that was made to cover all the sins that the people might have committed (Lev 16: 15, 16). The conscience cleanser, the catch-all sacrifice. Isaiah is here telling the religious leaders and the rulers of the people that they are abusing the sacrificial system. They could not come into the temple on the Sabbath and ask for forgiveness, and then go out and continue abusing and exploiting the vulnerable.