3 But you, draw near,
sons of the sorceress,
offspring of the adulterer and the loose woman.
4 Whom are you mocking?
Against whom do you open your mouth wide
and stick out your tongue?
Are you not children of transgression,
the offspring of deceit,
5 you who burn with lust among the oaks,
under every green tree,
who slaughter your children in the valleys,
under the clefts of the rocks?
6 Among the smooth stones of the valley is your portion;
they, they, are your lot;
to them you have poured out a drink offering,
you have brought a grain offering.
Shall I relent for these things?
7 On a high and lofty mountain
you have set your bed,
and there you went up to offer sacrifice.
8 Behind the door and the doorpost
you have set up your memorial;
for, deserting me, you have uncovered your bed,
you have gone up to it,
you have made it wide;
and you have made a covenant for yourself with them,
you have loved their bed,
you have looked on nakedness.
9 You journeyed to the king with oil
and multiplied your perfumes;
you sent your envoys far off,
and sent down even to Sheol.
10 You were wearied with the length of your way,
but you did not say, “It is hopeless”;
you found new life for your strength,
and so you were not faint.
11 Whom did you dread and fear,
so that you lied,
and did not remember me,
did not lay it to heart?
Have I not held my peace, even for a long time,
and you do not fear me?
12 I will declare your righteousness and your deeds,
but they will not profit you.
13 When you cry out, let your collection of idols deliver you!
The wind will carry them all off,
a breath will take them away.
But he who takes refuge in me shall possess the land
and shall inherit my holy mountain. – Isaiah 57:3-13 ESV
After castigating and condemning the watchmen, the self-proclaimed spiritual leaders of Judah, God turns His attention to the people. While they had been misinformed and mislead by the false prophets, they were not without a measure of guilt. And God makes it painfully clear what He thought about their behavior towards Him. He addresses them in not-so-flattering terms, calling them “sons of sorcerors, offspring of the adulterer and the loose woman” (Isaiah 57:3 ESV). The New Living Translation makes it even more unpleasant, translating verse3 as “you witches’ children, you offspring of adulterers and prostitutes!” And God is not done. he goes on to describe them as “children of transgression, the offspring of deceit” (Isaiah 57:4 ESV).
God is not happy with them. And all these unflattering appellations are tied directly to their practice of idolatry. God is unsparing in His accusations against them. Like a criminal prosecutor in a court of law, God lays out His evidence, providing more than enough proof to convict the people of Judah of their crime and justify their well-deserved punishment.
God accuses them of worshiping their false gods under every oak and green tree they can find and doing so with passion. The Hebrew word translated as “passion” is chamam and it carries a sexual connotation. It can be translated as “inflamed” or “aroused.” To put it in rather graphic terms, the people of Judah “got off” on practicing idolatry. They set up shrines and high places all over the land of Canaan, where they worshiped their false deities and even practiced child sacrifice as part of their passionate adoration of their gods. And God had been very clear in His commands regarding child sacrifice.
“Do not permit any of your children to be offered as a sacrifice to Molech, for you must not bring shame on the name of your God. I am the LORD.” – Leviticus 18:21 NLT
“Give the people of Israel these instructions, which apply both to native Israelites and to the foreigners living in Israel. If any of them offer their children as a sacrifice to Molech, they must be put to death.” – Leviticus 20:2 NLT
“I myself will turn against them and cut them off from the community, because they have defiled my sanctuary and brought shame on my holy name by offering their children to Molech.” – Leviticus 20:3 NLT
Yet, here was God, generations later, accusing His people of doing exactly what He had told them not to do. They had idols under the trees, in the valleys, on top of the mountains, and just about every other place you could imagine. False gods were ubiquitous in Judah. And in the very act of worship their many false gods, they were proving themselves unfaithful and spiritually adulterous to the one true God. Like a faithful husband speaking to his promiscuous wife, God tells them, “You have left me and climbed into bed with these detestable gods. You have committed yourselves to them. You love to look at their naked bodies” (Isaiah 57:8 NLT).
Their passion for their false gods was relentless. Many of their gods were the result of political or military alliances with pagan nations. Envoys from Judah would travel long distances to worship the false gods of their potential allies, carrying olive oil and perfume to use as tributes to these idols. God describes them as constantly in search of some god who could provide them what they were seeking. And just when they would start to lose hope, they would discover yet another potential savior in the form of a statue made of stone, wood or precious metal.
“You grew weary in your search,
but you never gave up.
Desire gave you renewed strength,
and you did not grow weary.” – Isaiah 57:10 NLT
In the face of God’s whithering charges against them, He poses a question:
“Whom did you dread and fear,
so that you lied,
and did not remember me,
did not lay it to heart?” – Isaiah 57:11 ESV
Obviously, they had not feared God, or they wouldn’t have disobeyed His commands like they had. So, was their unfaithfulness driven by fear of their enemies? Or was it due to fear of their enemies’ gods? Whatever the case, they had not exhited any fear of God, even though He had displayed tremendous patience with them. Now, God was done showing them patience. And, knowing that they would argue with Him and try to present themselves as faithful servants who had done acts of righteousness deserving of His grace and mercy, God breaks the not-so-good news to them.
“Now I will expose your so-called good deeds.
None of them will help you.” – Isaiah 57:12 NLT
Later on in this very same book, Isaiah will deliver some seriously bad news to the people of Judah, that will blow their concept of self-righteousness out of the water.
You welcome those who gladly do good,
who follow godly ways.
But you have been very angry with us,
for we are not godly.
We are constant sinners;
how can people like us be saved?
We are all infected and impure with sin.
When we display our righteous deeds,
they are nothing but filthy rags. – Isaiah 64:5-6 NLT
They had no righteous deeds. Their best deeds done on their best day with the best of intentions were worthless in the eyes of God. He could see into their hearts. And as God stated earlier in the book of Isaiah, “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote” (Isaiah29:13 NLT).
So, God offers His disobedient and idolatrous people a challenge. The next time they faced trouble, He suggests that they call on their false gods to save them. And, because God has already made it clear that the next thing that was going to happen to them would be His judgment of them, He was basically taunting them to use their gods to stop Him. But God lets them know the outcome ahead of time.
“The wind will carry them all off,
a breath will take them away.” – Isaiah 57:13 ESV
They will prove laughingly impotent. But God says that “whoever trusts in me will inherit the land and possess my holy mountain” (Isaiah 57:13 NLT). They could continue to trust in their false gods. They could passionately pursue deliverance from lifeless idols or put their hope in the God of the universe. The choice was theirs, but the outcome of that choice was completely up to God and not up for debate.
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.