Updated: Jul 31, 2020
Isaiah 1:18-31 (NKJV)
“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.
If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land;
but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
See how the faithful city has become a prostitute! She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her— but now murderers!
Your silver has become dross, your choice wine is diluted with water.
Your rulers are rebels, partners with thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them.
Therefore the Lord, the Lord Almighty, the Mighty One of Israel, declares: “Ah! I will vent my wrath on my foes and avenge myself on my enemies.
I will turn my hand against you; I will thoroughly purge away your dross and remove all your impurities.
I will restore your leaders as in days of old, your rulers as at the beginning. Afterward you will be called the City of Righteousness, the Faithful City.”
Zion will be delivered with justice, her penitent ones with righteousness.
But rebels and sinners will both be broken, and those who forsake the Lord will perish.
“You will be ashamed because of the sacred oaks in which you have delighted; you will be disgraced because of the gardens that you have chosen.
You will be like an oak with fading leaves, like a garden without water.
The mighty man will become tinder and his work a spark; both will burn together, with no one to quench the fire.”
Today we shall resume our look at Isaiah 1, seeing God's message about redeeming Israel and the pains that will accompany such a process.
As we spoke of previously, YHVH (the Lord) takes on a rather judicial tone when addressing Israel. The phrase here “let us reason together” (NKJV vs. 18) comes from the Hebrew root word yakach (yaw-kahh'; חכַיָ) meaning to adjudicate. God is taking not only his role as Lord here but as Righteous Judge, Shofet Tsaddiq. Yet rather than promising punishment and judgment, God promises a cleansing. Though Israel’s sins are red like scarlet, they shall become white as wool.
Note that Isaiah 1:19-20 very clearly demonstrates the duality of choices with God. God never promises only punishment and only reward. It is never the case of “your punishment is the lack of reward” or “your reward is the lack of punishment”. The former would be a despotic tyrant and the latter would be an overly doting parent who raises a spoiled child. God's intention is to provide a lucrative foil to the pleasures and difficulties that sin and obedience respectively invoke when we are practicing them. At the end of the day, if someone selects sin, they are treated as having weighed the cost that God set before them.
Isaiah likens Israel as a faithful city turned harlot; righteousness became murder, silver became dross, wine was mixed with water, princes rebellious and associated with thieves, bribery prolific. Isaiah repeats the point about not defending the fatherless and the cause of the widow. The poetic repetition of ideas focuses us back onto the idea of God's juxtaposed promises of reward and punishment. God would much rather us wash ourselves clean than incur His wrath.
If you're not familiar with what dross is, or why wine mixed with water is bad, you can Google images for the first and for the latter, just ask anyone who likes to drink wine whether they would mix it with water.
Despite all these warnings, the Lord says that He will rid himself of His enemies, even if those are His own people. The justice that comes is not revenge as the Western world thinks of it, nor is it even total destruction. Rather, God is setting things back to how they once were and in the process pruning the wickedness from the city. The end goal is not punishment but redemption. It is something that we must remember whenever we are going through our personal pruning processes; God's end goal is not suffering, it is to make the world as it once was.
God is concerned with distributive justice; the proper and fair distribution of resources throughout the city. Israel was never meant to have a king in the first place, so why should those who rule and reign be given more? Israel was and had always been meant to be ruled by God with its people having an equal portion. Think back to the manna in the desert. Everyone gathered enough for the community when it was equalised. God has always been about fairness and the community rather than the individual's benefit.
In the final declaration of the chapter, the Lord continues about the topic of justice. Those who transgress and sin will be dealt with and consumed. The terebinth (oak) tree is mentioned twice in this final declaration, that those who would be consumed would be ashamed of the terebinth they desired and the gardens they chose. Gardens represent a luxury, since growing crops was the main point of fertile land. It was proof that the rich took while the poor suffered. As for terebinth trees, these are hardy trees that provided a good amount of shade and shelter and therefore concealment. Israelites would sacrifice to idols under this.
Despite the seeming concealment, God had seen through the Israelites’ ruse and removed the leaves from the terebinth both to reveal their shame and sin, as well as to demonstrate that even these strong and sturdy trees stood weakly against the strength of God and His justice. God does not discriminate because the strength of men is insignificant in the face of God.
With that, we have concluded Isaiah 1. In the next session, we will move on to Isaiah 2.
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.