Isaiah 1-4 Iniquity and solemn assemblies do not mix

From Isaiah 1-4

Isaiah kneeling

Isaiah is a combination judgment, prophecy and some narrative. There is lots of judgment so be prepared. But more often than not, there are glimpses of hope.

This post is part of my bible in a year series.

Passage and Comments

1 The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. (Is 1.1)

From our readings of Kings and Chronicles we know he ministered to Judah. Isaiah starts during the reign of Uzziah, king of Judah. The following reflects the contents of a vision he received from the LORD. No doubt he proclaimed it to the people and had it written down.

2 Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth;
for the LORD has spoken:
“Children have I reared and brought up,
but they have rebelled against me.
3 The ox knows its owner,
and the donkey its master’s crib,
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand.”
4 Ah, sinful nation,
a people laden with iniquity,
offspring of evildoers,
children who deal corruptly!
They have forsaken the LORD,
they have despised the Holy One of Israel,
they are utterly estranged. (Is 1:2–4)

He gives a fairly sober account of Judah. They are a ‘sinful nation’ and ‘laden with iniquity’. He doesn’t pull his punches and we can be sure people didn’t want to hear this. The people have forsaken the LORD and have turned away from him.

11 “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the LORD;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of well-fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats.
12 “When you come to appear before me,
who has required of you
this trampling of my courts?
13 Bring no more vain offerings;
incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—
I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts
my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood. (Is 1:11–15)

The irony is they still go through the motions with their religion. They offer sacrifices and give offerings at the temple. This is the method of worship specified in the Jewish law. Yet they are a sinful nation, full of iniquity and utterly estranged.

People observing them in the temple might think they were faithful. But their lives outside tell another story. The LORD won’t have a bar of it. He calls their offerings ‘vain’, their incense an ‘abomination’. He hates their festivals (new moons). The LORD will not listen to their prayers.

Appropriately Isaiah calls out for repentance.

16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
17 learn to do good;
seek justice,
correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause. (Is 1:16–17)

The list of rapid fire instructions gives us an understanding of what they are doing wrong and what they lack. The order of his instructions moves from confession and heartfelt grief before God to repenting from sin and evil, to good works and righteousness.

Story of Israel

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

This is the first of many judgments in Isaiah. This is not the only instance where the LORD has rejected their temple worship and festivals. Amos does the same.

21 “I hate, I despise your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
I will not look upon them.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Am 5:21–24)

Earlier in a time of repentance David recognised that the LORD does not desire offerings.

14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Ps 51:14–17)

This is the kind of repentance Israel needed. The LORD does not require burnt offerings and new moon festivals.

Story of Jesus

After Jesus died and rose again and Gentiles started to call him Lord. Some Jews thought it would be a good idea to impose these same practices on them. The apostle Paul shielded them.

16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Col 2:16–23).

Paul says they have no value in ‘stopping the indulgence of the flesh’ – sin. Which is interesting. The idea that the practice of these commands would help free them from the power of sin. Isaiah’s description of Judah above confirms Paul’s observation that they don’t.

Paul says they were a ‘shadow of things to come’ (Col 2.17). He is basically saying they looked forward to the coming of the Christ – Jesus. When he would fulfill them in himself and in his work on the cross.

Copyright © Joshua Washington and thescripturesays, 2014. All Rights Reserved.