Sunday School Lesson 1 - Isa. 1:1, 10-20 - GOD CONFRONTS
INTRODUCTION: Today we begin a new quarter in the Book of Isaiah. The prophet Isaiah, who is thought to have written the Book between 742 and 687 B.C. (a span of 55 years), was primarily called to prophesy to the Kingdom of Judah when it to was going through times of revival and rebellion during the reigns of four different kings. Due to the long time span over which the Book was written, there have been many scholarly opinions and theories about how it was accomplished, however; we aren't going to waste time covering this issue simply because it's not important to the overall message of the Book. It's no accident that Isaiah was placed first among the books of prophecy in the OT. It is the longest book of prophecy and is almost universally held to be the most important. More than any other book in the OT, Isaiah focuses on the salvation that will come through the Messiah. The Messiah will one day rule in justice and righteousness and His reign will bring peace and safety to Israel; and through the Messiah, Israel will be a light to all nations. The Messiah's kingdom on earth is the goal towards which all of the Book of Isaiah points, and it is during His reign that God's righteousness will be fully revealed to the world. But in a seeming paradox, the Book of Isaiah also presents the Messiah as one who will suffer. It is through His wounds that healing is achieved, and it is through His suffering that our sin and iniquities are taken away. This apparent contradiction is answered in the Person of Jesus Christ. In His first advent, Jesus was the suffering servant of Isaiah 53; but in His second advent, Jesus will be the conquering King and the Prince of Peace.
Read Isa. 1:1 - THE VISION OF THE SON OF AMOZ
1 The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz concerning Judah and Jerusalem, which he saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
v. 1a: "The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz" - We know little of Isaiah other than what is revealed in this Book. We're told he's the son of Amoz, and Jewish tradition suggests that Amoz was the brother of Amaziah, eighth king of Judah (767-796 B.C.), but that is far from certain. The prophecy came to Isaiah as a revelation from God in the form of "visions" (Heb. hazon), picturing future events as they unfolded). The name Isaiah means "The LORD is Salvation," which is also a summary of his message.
v. 1b: "concerning Judah and Jerusalem" - The third person reference to Isaiah makes it clear that he's not the author of this verse, which was most likely written by a scribe who copied and saved the Book. There's no indication that Isaiah saw the whole vision in one sitting, but visions given to him by God that continued over a lengthy span of time. Judah was one of the 12 tribes and occupied most of the territory between the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean. At the time Isaiah began to write, the 12 tribes had been divided into two kingdoms-Israel to the North and Judah to the south. In 721 B.C., during Isaiah's lifetime, Assyria conquered the Northern Kingdom and dispersed its people, leaving Judah as the sole remaining entity of God's Covenant people.
v. 1c: "which he saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah" - Isaiah's ministry began the year king Uzziah died in 742 B.C (Isa. 6:1) and continued into the reign of king Hezekiah (715 to 687 B.C.) until at least until 701 B.C., and very possibly longer.
Read Isa. 1:10-15 - WHAT ARE YOUR MAN SACRIFICES TO ME?
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.
v. 10a: "Hear the word of the LORD, You rulers of Sodom" - Here, God is specifically speaking to the "rulers" in Jerusalem. God is telling them that Jerusalem would have by now suffered the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah-complete destruction (Gen. 18 and 19)-were it not for His Grace. God expected His Covenant people to be a holy people who reflected His character to the world.
v. 10b: "Listen to the instruction of our God, You people of Gomorrah!" - The word used for instruction (Heb. to-ra) also means law and teaching. He's saying that the instructions that God gave Moses didn't focus on religious regulations or legalistic righteousness but on character and attitudes.
v. 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." - The problem is not that they have made the sacrifices; but that they have given the sacrifices as a substitute for giving the LORD their hearts and their obedience. The sacrifices are supposed to be an expression of their devotion to God in their hearts. Yet, instead of reminding God of their devotion, all these sacrifices-some of them lavish (e.g., "fat of fattened cattle")-it reminds Him of their rebellion. It's like an unfaithful husband who tries to make amends by giving his wife expensive gifts.
v. 12: "When you come to appear before Me, Who requires of you this trampling of My courtyards?" - Animal sacrifices were very messy. The process-the animal dying in the sinner's place as atonement-was intended by God as a means of demonstrating the severity of their sins. But when faithful devotion-genuine sorrow for sin-is missing, the process just degenerates to a "trampling of My courtyards," i.e., just making a mockery of God's house.
v. 13a: "Do not go on bringing your worthless offerings, Incense is an abomination to Me. - Very simply, offerings made without a faithful and humble heart are not pleasing to the LORD but are empty and meaningless, and because of the pretense, they are an "abomination" to Him.
v. 13b: "New moon and Sabbath, the proclamation of an assembly-I cannot endure wrongdoing and the festive assembly." - Although God desires His people to worship Him, it has no meaning apart from faithful obedience and a devoted heart. These people are celebrating these "New moon and Sabbath" holy days and gathering together for "festive" assemblies, but they are unrepentant sinners who are just going through empty rituals. To God, all of it is "wrongdoing." It disgusts Him. It happens today when people come to church to "feel good" instead of worshiping God in truth.
v. 14: "I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, They have become a burden to Me; I am tired of bearing them." - When worship is performed without faithful devotion and humble submission, God sees it is a "burden" (i.e., something unwanted) rather than pleasing to Him. For God, it's worse than no worship at all. It really repels Him. Compare this to Lev. 9:24, when God's holy fire consumed the offering and all the people "shouted and fell on their faces." Same God.
v. 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 spreading of hands was supposed to reflect an attitude of prayer-submitting to God in humility and seeking fellowship with Him-but these people are only play-acting, going through the outward motions without any inward transformation. So, God not only rejects their phony offerings, but also refuses to hear their prayers. The interpretation of "your hands are covered in blood" is uncertain. It could refer to the blood of the offerings being sacrificed or relate to the blood-guilt incurred from deeds of violence they had committed against others.
Isaiah 1:16-17 - MAKE YOURSELVES CLEAN
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.
Note: In vv. 10-15, the prophet identified the problem; now, in vv. 16-17, he spells out the solution.
v. 16a: "Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean" - Its' interesting that God, who's thoroughly disgusted with their empty rituals, here prescribes a cleansing ritual as the first step in correcting the problem. And the first step of cleansing -spiritual, that is-can only occur when: (1) the people realize and admit they are wrong-humble themselves before God, seek His face, and confess their sins in prayer and (2) commit themselves to take steps to right the wrong-honest repentance = conviction, contrition, and change of behavior. The end result is a changed heart. This is what God is seeking, what God expects.
v. 16b: "Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Stop doing evil" - Removing the sin from their lives and deciding to never repeat them is the outward proof of an inward change of heart.
v. 17a: "Learn to do good" - The people have become spiritually ignorant; a re-education process is required. They mistakenly thought the old rituals were adequate. They didn't realize that the rituals must be prepared with a faithful heart: honest humility, confession, conviction, and true repentance.
v. 17b: "Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor, Obtain justice for the orphan, Plead for the widow's case" - Here, God lists four actions that exemplify what it means to "do good." The general term to "seek Justice" simply means that you treat everyone fairly and impartially on a personal level. It also means you are actively looking for unselfish ways to help the disadvantaged people in your society.
Read Isa. 1:18-20 -THEY SHALL BECOME AS WHITE AS SNOW
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.
v. 18a: "Come now, and let us debate your case," - The imperative "Come," modified by the adverb "now," turns the statement into an invitation. It's an invitation to "debate" the charges that the LORD has leveled against the people of Jerusalem. The word used for "debate" (Heb. yakach [yaw-kahh']) means to decide, adjudge, and prove. So, God is telling them to look at the proof and make a choice.
v. 18b: "Says the LORD" - This is key: God uses His Covenant name YHWH ("I am who I am). They aren't being invited by the king, the High Priest, or any human officials, but by the LORD, their God. The fact that the invitation comes from YHWH gives it enormous validity and authentic value.
v. 18c: "Though your sins are as scarlet, They shall become as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be like wool." - "Scarlet, red, and crimson" all symbolize sin, while "white, snow," and "wool" symbolize purity. YHWH's promise is that, although they are stained red with sin right now, they have the opportunity to receive cleansing and forgiveness. The proposition is that they must first devote their hearts to YHWH (humility and confession) and change their actions (repentance) so that they agree with the requirements of v. 17. If they do this, YHWH will cleanse and forgive them. (Notice that the cleansing and forgiveness are acts of God's grace, not the sinners).
Now, having specified the charges and given an invitation to choose, God outlines two options that are so distinct that anyone should be able to fully appreciate what's at stake. The next two verses make it clear that God's promise isn't an unconditional offer; it's an ultimatum: A choice between a blessing and a curse, which, in effect, is also a choice between life and death. Today, under the New Covenant, people have a similar choice: the blessing of eternal life or the curse of eternal death.
v. 19: "If you are willing and obedient, You will eat the best of the land" - The two conditions are straightforward: "willing and obedient." Added together, they equate to the truly repentant heart specified in v. 17 (as opposed to repentance of the mouth or saying without doing). The second phrase, "You will eat the best of the land," is a figure of speech for general prosperity and security.
v. 20a: "But if you refuse and rebel, You will be devoured by the sword." God has in v. 19 offered them an olive leaf of mercy-a chance to repent and be blessed for it: but in this verse, if they elected instead to continue in their present rebellious state as outlined in vv. 10-15, God promised to judge them. And he did, "by the sword," not immediately but in 597 B.C., when Nebuchadnezzar's Babylonian armies conquered and subjugated Jerusalem. The kingdom of Judah ceased to exist, and many of the people were dispersed into exile. Today, in a world largely opposed to God, we in the church are faced with a similar dilemma: Most today refuse to repent and place their trust in Jesus Christ as Lord, and they are facing a very real and imminent judgment.
v. 20b: "For the mouth of the LORD has spoken" - This phrase seals (or binds) the promises of verses 19 and 20. It's like a notarized signature on a legal document that gives authority to the signatory, in this case, Isaiah's authority to speak for God.
APPLICATION-A Warning to the People of God
1. The People of God must approach the things of God with devoted and obedient hearts. The Judean people in today's lesson were making the requisite sacrifices and observing the Sabbath and festive activities, but inwardly, they were unrepentant sinners whose rituals were in truth empty and meaningless (vv. 11-13). As expressed through the prophet, God said that this fake worship was worse than no worship at all (v. 13). We 21st Century Christians are also the People of God and the truth expressed here is just as applicable to us as it was to the Jews of Isaiah's time. So here's the question for us: How do we approach the things of God? Are our minds and hearts committed to God to the same degree our outward appearance would suggest? This happens today when people come to church to "feel good" about themselves instead of being there to worship God in Spirit and in truth.
2. The People of God should be identified by the way they live. Verses 16 and 17 indicate that many of the Judean Jews were not only engaging in fake worship but were living sinful lifestyles that completely ignored the needs of the underprivileged people in their community. The question for any of us today is this: How do we act outside of the church or away from Christian groups or Christian friends? Would someone be able to tell you're a Christian by the way you speak and act? Also, do you routinely treat everyone you encounter fairly and impartially on a personal level? And
finally, as God expects, are you doing anything to help the disadvantaged people in our community?
3. The invitation of verses 19 and 20-to become one of God's people-is still open. In Isaiah's OT timeframe, it was addressed to Jews who needed to keep their covenant with God in faithful obedience. Today it's addressed to the lost world that Jesus Christ came to save. As the modern people of God, we've been commissioned to "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation" (Mark. 16:15). At the end