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Isaiah 1:1-17

Updated: Jul 31, 2020

Daniel Tan

Isaiah 1:1-17 (NKJV)

The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth! For the Lord has spoken: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me.

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

Woe to the sinful nation, a people whose guilt is great, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the Lord; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him.

Why should you be beaten anymore? Why do you persist in rebellion? Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted.

From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness— only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with olive oil.

Your country is desolate, your cities burned with fire; your fields are being stripped by foreigners right before you, laid waste as when overthrown by strangers.

Daughter Zion is left like a shelter in a vineyard, like a hut in a cucumber field, like a city under siege.

Unless the Lord Almighty had left us some survivors, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.

Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the instruction of our God, you people of Gomorrah!

“The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?” says the Lord. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.

When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts?

Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.

Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.

When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening.

Your hands are full of blood!

Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong.

Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.

Today, we look at the context of Isaiah 1 and how Israel has rebelled against God. Isaiah brings a message of woe and of questioning to the Israelites.

The rule of Uzziah is documented briefly in 2 Chronicles 26. Uzziah took over from his father Amaziah at the young age of 16 and reigned for 52 years. Initially, he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord as Amaziah had, but eventually became unfaithful to God. The prophet of the time who advised Uzziah was Zechariah. In that vein, the Book of Zechariah is actually placed before Isaiah and Chronicles chronologically speaking.

Uzziah broke the ordinance of God by offering incense himself. He was thus punished with leprosy and banned from the Temple. It is during this time that Isaiah begins his message. It is likely that the message begins sometime before Uzziah breaks the ordinance. The long-term corruption of the people had eventually influenced Uzziah, leading to the incident. This is however merely speculation.

From Isaiah's message though, we can tell that the Israelites have rebelled against God. In response, God testifies as if in court, asking the skies to hear and listen in the same way that a court would have witnessed the testimony of someone presenting a case before them.

God remarks, “the ox knows its masters, the donkey its owner's manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand” (vs. 3). The word for ‘know’ here is the Hebrew 'yada' (עדַיָ, pronounced yaw-dah). It is a word whose meaning is more akin to understanding and of intimacy. God is stating that Israel has forgotten their place and their relationship with God. This commentary about Israel being foolish children who have no sense is reinstated in the message of Jeremiah as well (see Jeremiah 4:22).

Isaiah repeats this once again, calling woe upon the sinful nation. Israel has descended into corruption and evil, turning their backs on God. Note here that themes frequently repeat throughout Isaiah, even within a chapter. Isaiah writes in elegant poetry and drives at a particular point. This is not prose as you would read in other parts of the Tanakh (Old Testament), such as Chronicles. It is a piece of literature meant to rouse Israel into understanding. Isaiah speaks not only to the common folk but also to nobles and royalty alike because of his unique position.

Something that is to be noted here is that Isaiah questions why Israel has to continue to be beaten and ravaged. The cross references don't make it particularly clear, but given Uzziah's track record in 2 Chronicles 26, this must have occurred quite late into the rule. Up until the recounts of vs. 15 in the Chronicles, Israel had still been quite victorious over its enemies; this lies in stark contrast with the depiction Isaiah paints. It is possible that this is a future-telling of things to come, though it may also refer to God sending enemy forces to invade Israel time and time again. For a small nation, Israel was regularly invaded and attacked by foreign forces seeking to capture it, likely because of its geographical location in Canaan.

Isaiah likens Israel, and especially the rulers, as being akin to Sodom and Gomorrah. The biblical account of Sodom and Gomorrah is found in Genesis 19; the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were condemned for their corruption and debauchery, as well as their mistreatment of others. While modern times take the punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah to be about homosexuality due to the attempted sodomization of the angels (and English due to its Christian sentiments has generated the word 'sodomy' because of this), we see here in Isaiah that it is more about how people are treated.

The prophet condemns the people for being so meticulous and proper in their religious ceremonies, but not defending the oppressed, taking up the cause of the fatherless and pleading the case of the widow (vs. 17). God states His displeasure with the sacrifices of the Israelites despite their obedience to Mosaic Law, calling men to appear before the Lord (Exodus 23:17) and the appointed festivals. God shuns and ignores their sentiments because their daily actions reflect more of their abidance to ceremony and ritual than obedience to God.

It is a learning point for us as well, that our modern day offerings of praise, worship, prayer and gatherings are less important to God than our adherence to basic morality and the needs of those who are suffering around us. From the beginning, love and relationship have been at the forefront more than any religious practices.

We will stop here for today, and reconvene to discuss Isaiah 1 further in terms of God's promise of settling accounts and redemption, a hint at God's mercy and willingness to forgive.

Daniel Tan

Daniel is currently and forevermore will be a student and a learner, trying to delve into the deep conundrums of life and seeing where the path leads. He enjoys linking different things in life back to God through strange and seemingly random connections. Daniel is in the Young Professionals ministry of the Central Christian Church.

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