Return!

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.

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.
The ox knows its owner,
    and the donkey its master’s crib,
but Israel does not know,
    my people do not understand.”

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.

Why will you still be struck down?
    Why will you continue to rebel?
The whole head is sick,
    and the whole heart faint.
From the sole of the foot even to the head,
    there is no soundness in it,
but bruises and sores
    and raw wounds;
they are not pressed out or bound up
    or softened with oil.

Your country lies desolate;
    your cities are burned with fire;
in your very presence
    foreigners devour your land;
    it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners.
And the daughter of Zion is left
    like a booth in a vineyard,
like a lodge in a cucumber field,
    like a besieged city.

If the Lord of hosts
    had not left us a few survivors,
we should have been like Sodom,
    and become like Gomorrah.

10 Hear the word of the Lord,
    you rulers of Sodom!
Give ear to the teaching of our God,
    you people of Gomorrah!
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.
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.

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.” – Isaiah 1:1-20 ESV

As the name of this book implies, it was written by the prophet, Isaiah, during the reigns of the following kings of Judah: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. It is considered a pre-exilic book, which simply means it was penned before the southern kingdom of Judah was defeated and destroyed in 586 B.C. by King Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian forces in 586 B.C. The result of this God-ordained calamity was that many of the people of Judah were taken captive and ended up living in exile in the nation of Babylon.

Isaiah was one of many prophets chosen by God to carry a message to the nation of Judah, warning them of pending judgment if they did not repent of their ways. He repeatedly called on them to return to Him or face destruction at the hands of the Babylonians. If they refused, they would find their capital of Jerusalem destroyed, their temple demolished, and their status as a major player in the region wiped out. If they ignored the message of Isaiah, they would find their exile from the land of promise lasting 70 long years.

So, Isaiah was chosen by God to deliver a stark message to the people of God, warning them of disaster to come. It would not be an easy task. Like all of God’s prophets, Isaiah would find an non-receptive audience who refused to listen to his words. And of the four kings during whose administrations Isaiah would prophecy, only two would show any interest in obeying God. They would attempt to apply the words of Isaiah and call the people to repentance, but their efforts would fall short.

But notice how God’s opens up His indictment of Judah. He addresses heaven and earth.

“Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth;
    for the Lord has spoken.” – Isaiah 1:2 ESV

He wants everyone, in heaven and on earth, to know just exactly what He has against the people of Judah, who He describes as children He has reared and brought up. They were the descendants of Abraham. As such, they were the direct result of a promise God had made to Abraham many generations earlier.

“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” – Genesis 12:2 ESV

The people of Judah were that great nation. They had been blessed by God and He had intended them to be a blessing to the other nations of the world. But as God makes perfectly clear, they had not been obedient children.

“…but they have rebelled against me.” – Isaiah 1:2 ESV

His criticism of His people is very blunt and far from flattering. He compares them to an ox and a donkey, two domesticated animals that aren’t known for being the brightest beasts in the barnyard. But God gives the ox and the donkey more credit than His own children. At least an ox recognizes its owner and a donkey knows where to go to get fed by his master. But the people of Judah were at a distinct disadvantage. Number one, they didn’t know God, their master. And they had no clue where to go to have their daily needs met. They were feeding themselves at the wrong trough.

Look at verse 4. God spares no mercy in describing the spiritual state of His people.

…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

Not exactly a flattering picture. But God isn’t done. He goes on to question the absurdity of their situation. Why in the world would they willingly continue to rebel against Him and suffer the consequences? They were bruised and beaten from the impact of it all. But they weren’t willing to do anything about it. God had already begun His judgments against them. Some of their cities were “desolate” because the enemies of the people of God were constantly attacking them. A lot of their problem was related to the failure of their ancestors to do what God had commanded them to do when He placed them in the promised land. They were to have completely destroyed all the inhabitants of the land so that they would not end up worshiping their false gods. But they had never fully followed through on their commitment, instead allowing the nations to remain in the land and to draw their hearts away from God. Now they were paying for it.

It was only the grace and mercy of God that had kept them from becoming a total wasteland like the once-flourishing cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. God even refers to them Sodom and Gomorrah, asking whether they think their sacrifices were enough to prevent their coming destruction.

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. – Isaiah 1:11 ESV

God was fed up. He was worn out by their tendency to simply go through the motions. And He wanted them to know that He was running out of patience.

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. – Isaiah 1:15 ESV

He pulls no punches. He doesn’t sugarcoat the problem. And, He gives them very clear instructions as to what they need to do to remedy the issue.

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

They had their work cut out for them, because they weren’t doing any of these things. But did God really expect them to pull this off? Was He going to sit back and wait for them to get their proverbial act together – on their own? No, look at what He says next.

“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.
If you are willing and obedient,
    you shall eat the good of the land.” – Isaiah 1:18-19 ESV

All they needed to do was return to Him. That was going to be the gist of Isaiah’s message. Just repent. Return to God and allow Him to do what He can only do. But God was clear what would happen if they refused to return.

“…if you refuse and rebel,
    you shall be eaten by the sword;
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” – Isaiah 1:20 ESV

Wow! That’s just the first 20 verses of this entire book. And Isaiah hasn’t even said a word yet. But he will. In fact, he will have a lot to say. But he won’t find many takers on what he has to offer. He will warn. He will plead. He will pray. He will beg. But the people of Judah will prove to be stubborn and set in their ways.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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