Repent and Return.

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.

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.”

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. – Isaiah 1:21-31 ESV

God had a problem with the people of Judah, and He had chosen Isaiah to deliver His stinging indictment and call them to repentance. This opening chapter is a no-holds-barred denunciation of their attitudes and actions that provides ample evidence for God’s coming judgment of them. And God is anything but polite or politically correct in His assessment of them.

He portrays them as a once faithful wife who is now no more than an adulterous whore. While the city of Jerusalem had once been home to the just and righteous, it was now full of murderers. While we might be tempted to view God’s words as a clear case of hyperbole, over-exaggeration for the sake of dramatic effect, these charges are of a very serious nature.

God goes out of His way to describe the sorry state of affairs in Jerusalem and the rest of the southern kingdom of Judah. Nothing is as it should be. He compares them to precious silver that has become contaminated with impurities, diminishing its value. They were like fine wine mixed with water, diluting its taste and destroying its worth.

Everything about Judah was the opposite of what God had intended. The leaders of the city were guilty of taking bribes and associating with those who take advantage of the helpless. God, like a prosecuting attorney, clearly states their crime:

They do not bring justice to the fatherless,
    and the widow’s cause does not come to them. – Isaiah 1:23 ESV

And this was in direct violation of God’s commands.

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? He requires only that you fear the Lord your God, and live in a way that pleases him, and love him and serve him with all your heart and soul. – Deuteronomy 10:12 NLT

They were to love God, but that love was to show up in their love for others. Their actions and attitudes toward one another were to be a tangible expression of their love for God. The prophet, Micah, would reiterate this divine expectation.

No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8 NLT

But the people of Judah had become self-serving and self-loving. Each individual was out for their own good and obsessed with seeking their own glory. Their religious observations had become little more than business-as-usual. They were going through the motions, feigning faithfulness to God, but all the while breaking His commands and ignoring His call to repentance.

So, God let them know that He was going to step in and do something about their apostasy. There were going to be some significant changes taking place. And the first one would involve purification.

“I will turn my hand against you
    and will smelt away your dross as with lye
    and remove all your alloy.” – Isaiah 1:25 ESV

Like contaminated silver, they were going to require the heat of God’s divine furnace. He was going to expose them to the purifying, dross-exposing blast of His judgment. And, later on in this very same book, God will explain the nature of this refining heat.

“I have refined you, but not as silver is refined.
    Rather, I have refined you in the furnace of suffering.
I will rescue you for my sake—
    yes, for my own sake!
I will not let my reputation be tarnished,
    and I will not share my glory with idols!” – Isaiah 48:1-11 NLT

This was all about the glory of God’s name. As the chosen people of God, they bore His name. They were His children. And all that they were doing reflected poorly on His reputation as their God and Father. So, He was going to do what was necessary to restore them to righteousness.

“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. – Isaiah 1:26 ESV

He was going to do for them what they were unable and unwilling to do for themselves. But their restoration would have to be prefaced by repentance.

“Zion shall be redeemed by justice,
    and those in her who repent, by righteousness.” – Isaiah 1:27 ESV

Unrepentant sinners and defiant rebels would end up broken by God. Those who refused to return to Him would be consumed. The idol worshipers who stubbornly continued to visit the sacred groves and gardens where they kept their false gods, would find themselves the victims of God’s wrath. And their lifeless idols would not be able to save them.

And the day was coming when they would regret their decision to forsake God and worship false gods. While their love affair with idols had made perfect sense to them at the time, God was going to expose their so-called gods for what they were: False.

The irony in all of this is how the people of Judah had turned their back on the one true God. He had chosen to make of them a great nation. He had blessed them beyond belief. He had given His law to guide them, provided a sacrificial system designed to cleanse them from sin, and repeatedly loved them in spite of them. But enough was enough. Yes, it is true that “The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression” (Psalm 103:8 ESV). But that same verse reminds us that “he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

Judah was guilty, and God was out to prove it. But His goal will be repentance in order that His people might experience redemption. He desires to restore them. He longs to reestablish His relationship with them. But they were going to have to acknowledge their sin and turn back to Him. Or face the consequences.

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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