Examination of Isaiah 1:10-20
New American Standard Bible
10 Hear the word of the Lord, You rulers of Sodom; Listen to the instruction of our God, You people of Gomorrah! 11 “What are your many sacrifices to Me?” Says the Lord. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fattened cattle; And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs, or goats. 12 When you come to appear before Me, Who requires of you this trampling of My courtyards? 13 Do not go on bringing your worthless offerings, Incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and Sabbath, the proclamation of an assembly— I cannot endure wrongdoing and the festive assembly. 14 I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, They have become a burden to Me; I am tired of bearing them. 15 So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; Yes, even though you offer many prayers, I will not be listening. Your hands are covered with blood.
The Lord here compares the people of Israel to those of Sodom and Gomorrah. It reveals the depth of their sin and the attitude of their heart. They have simply turned God into an idol believing they can pacify Him with mere religious ritual. What they fail to understand is He desires relationship and fellowship. He desires obedience to His word and His covenant. For if we truly love God, we will live according to His ways. If we truly love God, our conduct and way of life will indeed honor Him.
The Lord asks “what are your many sacrifices to me”. Sadly, the people had developed the mindset and understanding to gain God’s favor and blessing simply required a great quantity of sacrifices. They believed their conduct was divorced from their sacrifices. They believed no matter how they lived, as long as they brought sacrifices the Lord would be pleased.
But God made it clear that their wickedness and sin made Him sick to His stomach. He even speaks of the “tramplings of My Courtyards”. God is pointing to the wickedness that is happening. They are trampling His Courtyards because they believe that He doesn’t see or know their wicked conduct.
God is making it clear He is not concerned or delighted in empty sacrifice. What He truly desires are hearts and lives committed to Him. Sadly, this still is happening in the body of Christ. People believe they are able to pacify the Living God with mere church attendance and religious ritual. But religious exercise without surrendering one’s heart to the Living God means very little. It is empty and lifeless and will never touch the heart of God. It will actually break His heart and He will call to us again and again to simply surrender our lives to Him.
The new moon and Sabbath were part of the religious festivals that God instituted under the law for the nation of Israel. Everything God asked Israel to do in their festivals was to remind them of their relationship and reliance of God. It pointed to what God had done for them and His faithfulness to them. But these festivals had become mere ritual without the hearts of the people engaged. What God truly wanted was the hearts of the people and He is confronting their sin, not to bring condemnation, but that they would acknowledge their sin and come to repentance.
The Lord says He will not hear their prayers because their hands are covered with blood. Some may ask “what do you mean God doesn’t hear their prayers, I thought God hears everyone’s prayers, I thought He is all knowing, seeing, and hearing”. What God is saying is He has chosen to not listen. The prayers of the people have fallen on deaf ears. Often the people would cry out in prayer when they were in trouble, but in those moments God would not hear. His hope is their pain, suffering, and trial would turn their hearts back to Him and would cause them to live for Him.
Peter in 1 Peter 3:7 speaks about how a husband’s prayers can be hindered by His conduct toward His wife. Religious exercise that is divorced from the condition of one’s heart toward God means nothing. If we simply go through religious ritual because we believe it will somehow pacify God then we don’t know Him or understand Him. God is concerned about the very small details of our lives. He is concerned with our hearts and lives being given over to Him. The way we treat others and live our lives on a daily basis will answer the question if we truly love God. We may think we can fool everyone, but we will never fool God. When He is dealing with us on an issue it is best to simply surrender and give our hearts over to Him.
New American Standard Bible
16 “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Stop doing evil, 17 Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor, Obtain justice for the orphan, Plead for the widow’s case.
Is God claiming here that we can wash ourselves and make ourselves clean from sin apart from Him? The answer is no. What God is speaking of is true repentance. Repentance not only involves the changing of one’s mind concerning sin, but it also involves turning from sin and living for God. In this life we are either going to live in sin or we are going to live for the Living God. In Living for God, it doesn’t mean we will be perfect or live a life without sin. But there is a difference between sinning and falling short and blatantly living in habitual sin. Our lifestyle simply reveals the true condition of our hearts.
The Lord gives very practical instructions of how the people can turn back to Him and live for Him on a daily basis. God states: learn to do good, seek justice, rebuke the oppressor, obtain justice for the orphan, and plead for the widow’s case. All of these are practical ways to live rightly before the Lord and live according to the covenant God had established. Since God had established the covenant the only way that Israel could truly find blessing is to truly live according to the covenant. As followers in Christ the only way we can truly find blessing from God is to truly live according to the Spirit and the word of God.
All of the practical things God lists are things the people were not doing. They were not learning to do good, they were committing injustice, they were oppressing the poor, the fatherless, and the widow. Their actions were inviting the justice of God to move against them. Sadly, this is a picture of America today. In so many ways we live against God and His ways. In so many ways we have forsaken the Lord and every day we invite the justice of God in a greater measure. Some time we may wonder where is God in all of this? He is waiting for people to repent so that He can show them mercy. But sadly they reject God and His ways and simply make greater room for wickedness in their lives.
New American Standard Bible
18 “Come now, and let us debate your case,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They shall become as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be like wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, You will eat the best of the land; 20 But if you refuse and rebel, You will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Other translations say let us reason together. The Lord is truly confronting Israel with two choices. They can live for God and His covenant and the blessing of the Lord will be lavished upon them. They can reject God and His ways and the curses found in the book of the law will be poured out upon them (Deut 28).
The colors scarlet and crimson are a deep dark red. They are a bold red. They will be noticed from a distance. They are not hidden. God is saying even though their sins are great, and they are many, that if they will trust in the Lord, ask forgiveness, and choose to live for Him they will be forgiven. They will no longer be scarlet or crimson, they will be white as snow and will be like wool. They will be washed clean and removed.
God’s desire is never to bring judgement, it is always to show mercy. God is slow to anger, but He is abounding in love. He understands the weakness of humanity. He understands that it is impossible for Israel to perfectly keep the law. This is why it was always God’s plan to send His only begotten Son to this earth to take the wrath and punishment we deserved. But it didn’t excuse Israel choosing to live in sin. Yes they may struggle with sin, but in our struggle we can seek the Lord for strength. But one who is living in sin isn’t concerned with living for God and therefore will be destroyed by their own actions and decisions.
The Lord says if they are willing and obedient, they will eat the best of the land. What is God basing this on? He is basing it on His word. For the Lord had laid out for Israel in the law the blessings and curses that would be experienced depending on if they lived according to God’s covenant or not. Israel’s ability to experience the blessing of God was connected to their ability to live according to God’s covenant. God never divorce faith and action. If we truly walk in faith, our lifestyle and conduct will honor God in all things.
The Lord is very clear that if they refuse and rebel the word of the Lord the only result will be destruction. God doesn’t treat sin lightly and He doesn’t overlook it in His people. Sadly today many have cheapened the gospel message and speak very little of sin, repentance, obedience, and honoring God. They have turned the gospel into a self-centered message of blessing. God is simply calling us to live for Him. He is calling us to die to sin and self and instead to live for Him and His kingdom. In Christ our citizenship is no longer on this earth. Our citizenship is in heaven. The more we focus on Jesus and His kingdom, the more it will prepare our hearts for His soon return and ruling and reigning with Him in eternity. May we live for God. May we set aside the deeds of darkness and daily walk according to the Spirit and the word of God.