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Historical Context

The prophetic career of Isaiah spanned the lives of four Judean kings – two of them good, and two of them bad/evil kings. Just by considering that Isaiah the Prophet had witnessed the rules of these four kings, one may immediately conclude how the prophet observed the precarious nature of Judah’s relationship with God. Like a pendulum, the quality of their worship had gone back and forth – from true love to rebellion, from being a people who enjoys the benefits of God’s Covenant to a people being judged for having turned their backs on God, who is their benevolent Father and Lord.

Isaiah saw the slow deterioration of Judah’s spiritual life. Judah appeared prosperous and not actually in bad shape economically. In fact, under the reigns of Uzziah and Jotham, Judah was in a more flourishing condition than any other time since the United Kingdom of Israel and Judah had separated. The idea of two kingdoms – Israel and Judah – was strange during the reigns of David and Solomon. But after King Solomon, the idea of divided kingdom permeated the pages of historical narratives of the kings of supposed to be only one kingdom of Israel.

The fact that in the book of Isaiah, Israel as a divided kingdom was presupposed and that Isaiah’s prophecies were directed to Judah, these are hints sufficient to inform anybody that the people of God in general were in a state of spiritual decline. Under this spiritual climate that God spoke His words through His prophet to win over His people. To turn them back to God though was no easy task for this ancient prophet to do. For one thing, he had to tell them the very words of God. He had to objectively give them God’s diagnosis of their spiritual condition.

And so, the opening chapter of Isaiah proceeded from this kind of approach. Right away, without pulling any punches, the prophet lets go of God’s verdict of His people. In verse 2, he calls the “Heavens” and the “earth” to witness God’s indictment on His own people. From verses 2-8, the Lord has given them an accurate picture of their status. The image that was reflected in the mirror of God’s scrutiny was not a pleasant one to behold. Beasts are better off in behavior than God’s people (v.

3); a “sinful nation;” a people who could not expect anything good but could only expect the just judgment of God who had been provoked to anger by their continuous rebellion and disregard of His rightful rule in their life as a nation, as well as individuals. Literary Flow, Surrounding Thought Units, Genre The literary flow is one that is typical of eastern mind. The author employs certain literary style in which the substance of the message is encapsulated. For example, in the first group of verses in the first chapter (vv.

3-8), the author used metaphors or figurative communication to state the case in more graphic terms. Israel is portrayed as terribly sick – as one who is hurting from the inside out. Her entire body is dangerously ailing from the soles of her feet to the top of her head. Isaiah has stated the real situation in terms that it would be impossible to the listeners to miss the point. The reason Israel was suffering, and the reason that they were constantly being exposed to invasion from other nations was that they have abandoned their God.

Sin was their problem and the real cause of their misery. Isaiah’s announcement of God’s diagnosis of Israel’s spiritual condition was difficult to accept on the part of God’s people at that time as it is also tough on people today to hear the same biblical diagnosis being echoed by relatively few preachers nowadays. Isaiah’s indictment was not only exclusively true of God’s people of Isaiah’s time; it was relatively an accurate verdict on people in every generation ever since the Fall of the first couple, Adam and Eve.

Apostle Paul, to stress the fact that had it not for God withholding His righteous anger to some who would be recipients of His grace and objects of His mercy, there would be no remnants to testify of the undeserved grace of God. In Romans 9:29, he said (quoting Isa. 1:9): “And as Isaiah said before: ‘Unless the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we would have become like Sodom, and we would have been made like Gomorrah’. ” Significant Words Striking words, such as the employment of metaphors and similes, are common to Isaiah.

The figurative language that was used and immediately translated into its literal meaning in the language that follows is catchy. The destruction and the desolation in the country were clear signs of God’s displeasure. But while God’s judgment is presented metaphorically by way of a battered body, and literally in the fact that the country was destroyed, the destruction was not total and final. In verses 8-9, a simile that reflected the present reality for the people of God was stated. It betrays a glimmer of hope: there are remnants.

God has not abandoned totally His covenant people. If they would only listen and hear the word of the Lord, and cease from their ceremonial worship that had become habitual to the point of meaninglessness. All their religious rituals had become vain in the sight of God. Their hearts are detached from what they are doing. What they do regularly are not outflows from a heart that appreciates and worships. The whole nation has got so used in ritually performing their worship that it was instinctively done rather than heartfelt and thought through.

And so, God had to order them to stop their futile religious activities. The reality of their unjust dealings with their neighbors could not be erased and neutralized by the multitudes of their sacrifices in their sacred assemblies and the observation of their feasts. Even their prayers had become nonsense. The lesson was: no spiritual activities – no matter how often and customary they were – can replace a genuinely sanctified life. For God, sacrifices are futile, burning of incense is an abomination, sacred meetings are troublesome, and feasts are wearisome.

To the people of God, His word should have the place of preeminence in their midst. It’s so easy to fall into ritualism and get absorbed in the superficial while neglecting the very things that are considered “weightier matters. ” For God to even bother to point out these things to His people is nothing less than showing His undeserved grace. Indeed, if it were not for God acting in compassion, choosing to spare a remnant, where would the Jews’ and Gentiles’ place be in the economy of God? In the light of God’s eternal counsel, race is unimportant.

Although the immediate context has Israel in view as the people of God, and in some sense in redemptive history the nation and its people have their proper place, God’s concern is people that would reflect His glory, and in time would fulfill His plan in redemptive history. At this particular time when Isaiah wrote and addressed the people of Israel, they were in extremely bad situation both politically and spiritually. The political climate and its accompanying ills are outrightly said to be natural consequences of sin. Summary

What’s amazing about the way God has dealt with His covenant people was that He did not treat them as their sins deserved. He wooed them by calling their attention, entreating them via their intellect and graciously made a room for them to think through their plight. All their troubles were direct results of their rebellion against their Lord. They have made a breach to the covenant with which they have covenanted with God. Now, in spite of this, the Lord has chosen to preserve a remnant from the stock of a naturally rebellious people.

God through His prophet addressed the inhabitants of Jerusalem as “rulers of Sodom” and “people of Gomorrah” (Isa. 1:10). This is as clear as it could be in terms of spiritual appraisal. Sodom and Gomorrah was judged swiftly in earlier history, and the account of the execution of Divine judgment on these two wicked nations is recorded in the Biblical narrative of Genesis. The fact that Israel at the time of Prophet Isaiah was declared to be as guilty as Sodom and Gomorrah should drive home a solemn warning on them.

God could have chosen rightfully to pour out His judgment on the people of Israel at this time without delay. But like a Father, He calls their attention, and He challenge them to consider their ways – to think intelligently and judge for themselves with the presuppositions of the Word of God lodged in their heads whether it is right to continue in their idolatry, injustices, and presumptuous attitude, or turn to God who has been dealing with them graciously every time in their rebellion. The Lord would say to them: “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.

Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, says the LORD, though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If you are willing and obedient, You shall eat the good of the land” (Isa. 1:16-19). Reference 1. The Holy Bible, New King James Version, 1982 Thomas Nelson, Inc. 2. Forsythe, Max A. An Exposition of Isaiah. September 19, 1993. Christ Covenant Reformed (PCA)

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