From Isaiah 1-4
The book of Isaiah begins with a message of judgment and a call to repent. The LORD has rejected their sacrifices and offerings. He prefers people to do good and seek justice. Today’s reading is the continuation of that message.
This post is part of my bible in a year series.
Passage and Comments
18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land;
20 but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Is 1:18–20)
The LORD calls them to repent. He wants to reason with them. The LORD is offended at their sin. Yet he still seeks a diplomatic solution.
Their sins stand out and mar their appearance. Isaiah gives them hope and a way out.
In the Second Temple period it was the custom to tie a red thread to the door of the sanctuary when the scapegoat was led into the desert carrying the sins of Israel (Lev 16:21; m. Yoma 6:8). When the goat reached the desert, the thread became white (presumably it was replaced by a white thread!) to fulfill 1:18: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow.” (Barker, M. (2003). Isaiah. In J. D. G. Dunn & J. W. Rogerson (Eds.), Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible (p. 498). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.)
The LORD wants to forgive and help those who are willing and obedient.
The consequences of rejecting the LORD’s offer however are not so pleasant. They will be killed. Slaughtered, eaten even by the sword.
21 How the faithful city has become a whore, she who was full of justice! Righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers.
22 Your silver has become dross, your best wine mixed with water.
23 Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not bring justice to the fatherless, and the widow’s cause does not come to them. (Is 1:21-23)
Speaking about Jerusalem, the LORD laments what the city has become. Once faithful, now a whore. Its a harsh word highlighting they were once devoted to the LORD in covenant bond. Now they sell themselves to anyone who will give them money. They have abandoned their first love.
Once full of justice and righteousness. Referring to their behaviour. Now they are violent, greedy, and deceitful.
The fatherless and the widows suffer more because no one looks after them.
The LORD cares about the poor and needy. We should be too.
24 Therefore the Lord declares, the LORD of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel: “Ah, I will get relief from my enemies and avenge myself on my foes.
25 I will turn my hand against you and will smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy.
26 And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.” (Is 1:24-26)
The LORD sets a course to correct them. To return them to righteousness. He will purify them. Burning away their impurities. A painful experience to be sure.
Do you have some alloy that needs removing?
He will do this in part by raising up faithful leaders – judges and counsellors. Who will lead, teach, correct and discipline them.
But not all will receive instruction.
27 Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness.
28 But rebels and sinners shall be broken together, and those who forsake the LORD shall be consumed.
29 For they shall be ashamed of the oaks that you desired; and you shall blush for the gardens that you have chosen.
30 For you shall be like an oak whose leaf withers, and like a garden without water.
31 And the strong shall become tinder, and his work a spark, and both of them shall burn together, with none to quench them. (Is 1:27–31)
Zion (the people of Jerusalem) will be redeemed by the LORD’s justice. The context suggests it will be done by faithful leaders. Judges.
But not all accept it. Some will persist in their sin and rebel. The fate of those who reject instruction is compared to trees, leaves and gardens that burn up. The rebels and the sinners ‘shall burn together with none to quench them’.
If you are disciplined by the LORD, accept it. Its a better outcome by far.
Story of Israel
God alone has the ability to save his people from slavery and captivity. God’s redemptive will and power is demonstrated in his deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt.
God is the sole redeemer of Israel. This is a repeated theme through Isaiah. (Isa 43.1; 47.4; 48.17; 54.5; 63.16). He redeems because of his love (Dt 7.8; Ps 44.26) and because he has the power to (Dt 9.26; 2 Sam 7.23; Neh 1.10).
After they are sent into exile for their sins. God will redeem Israel from their captivity in Babylon (Isa 41.14; 43.4; 44.6; 49.26; 54.5; 60.16; 62.12).
He also redeems individuals from difficult situations (Ps 34.22; Isa 29.22; Job 19.25).
25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. (Job 19.25)
Israel was in need of a redeemer and the LORD promised he would send one.
Story of Jesus
In Isaiah, the LORD promised to redeem his people and he would do this by judges. We know our redeemer is Jesus. When he comes again to judge, he will also redeem his people. He says a time of redemption is coming in the gospel. But first there must be signs and distress.
25 “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
28 Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29 And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (Lk 21:25-33)
The signs and distress mean our redemption is drawing near. The new heavens and earth Jesus promises will be better than our world now.
In Isaiah the people of Israel has rebelled against the LORD. They needed to submit to the LORD’s discipline and repent. Likewise we need to heed Jesus’ warnings in the gospel.
34 “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth.
36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
37 And every day he was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet. 38 And early in the morning all the people came to him in the temple to hear him. (Lk 21:34–38)
Stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.
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