ISAIAH CHAPTER 1.
The Opening Vision.
THE ADDRESS. — V. 1. The vision of Isaiah (“The Lord will save”), the son of Amos, which he saw, by special enlightenment and inspiration of the Lord, concerning Judah, the southern kingdom, and Jerusalem, the capital of Judah, the site of the Temple, and therefore the center of theocratic worship, in the days of Uzziah, also known as Azariah, 2 Kings 14, 21, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. V. 2. Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, the witnesses who were present at the giving of the Law, Deut. 4, 36, were to hear the complaint of the Lord, as He entered into judgment with His people after seven centuries, cp. Dent. 32, 1; for the Lord hath spoken, the very words of Jehovah, the self-existing and unchangeable God, being quoted here, I have nourished, brought to maturity, to adult age, and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me, for so Israel, the first-born son of God, Ex. 4, 22, had rewarded the blessings received at the hand of God during these many years since the deliverance out of the serfdom of Egypt. Rebellion against God, apostasy from God: that is the chief characteristic in the history of Israel since the days of Solomon. V. 3. The ox knoweth his owner and the ass his master’s crib, the very unthinking brutes acquiring a certain attachment for their master, so that they will not voluntarily leave him; but Israel doth not know, does not realize, My people doth not consider, does not meditate and reflect upon it, continues in deliberate ignorance of its Lord and Provider. V. 4. Ah! sinful nation, going its way of willful error, a people laden with iniquity, with guilt and corruption of right, burdened with transgressions, a seed of evil-doers, a brood of such as prefer wickedness to the holiness required of them, children that are corrupters, themselves subject to spiritual decay and infecting others with their corruption; they have forsaken the Lord, they are guilty of apostasy in heart and mind, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they have gotten into the habit of blaspheming and mocking or rejecting with scorn, Him who is spotlessly pure and who chose these people to be a holy nation unto Himself; they are gone away backward, following their own corrupt ways, especially in sins of idolatry. Such is the sevenfold woe of the Lord, which may rightly be applied wherever apostasy is found in His Church, also in our days.
THE DESOLATION OF ZION. — V. 5. Why, that is, to what end and purpose, should ye be stricken any more? Ye will revolt more and more, or, “while ye are revolting more and more.” The case was such that Israel heaped rebellion upon blasphemy, always becoming subject to more severe forms of punishment, and yet no beneficial result showed. The whole head is sick and the whole heart faint, that is, the entire nation, leaders and followers, within and without, were suffering from the consequences of tile many wounds received at the hands of God. V. 6. From the sole of the foot even unto the head, that is, the whole body of the people, from the lowest to the highest and most honorable, there is no soundness in it, not a healthy spot, but wounds, gaping as from the stroke of a sword, and bruises, contusions as from the blows of fists, and putrefying sores, from which the pus must be drawn; they have not been closed, by pressing the gaping edges together, both to remove all foreign matter und to cause an even healing, neither bound up, by a cool and softening bandage, neither mollified with ointment, to hasten the healing process. In other words, when the prophets tried to heal the various wounds and bruises of Israel by using the knife of the Law, by calling the people to repentance, in order to apply the cooling ointment of the Gospel afterwards, the people resented the treatment and hindered the healing; they refused the assistance of the Lord and repudiated His mercy. The prophet now abandons his figurative language for a concrete description of the situation in Judah and Jerusalem at that time. V. 7. Your country is desolate, it has been made a desert by the inroads of the enemies, your cities are burned with fire, laid waste by plundering hordes; your land, strangers devour it in your presence, that is, the fruits of the ground, of fields and orchards, were taken by the invaders, and it is desolate, turned into a wilderness, as overthrown by strangers, conditions such as barbarians usually bring about. V. 8. And the daughter of Zion, the city of Jerusalem with its inhabitants, is left as a cottage in a vineyard, the shack of a watchman, offering meager shelter, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, a similar shelter in a truck-garden, temporary and frail, as a besieged city, for the devastated country is inhabited by enemies, and therefore the inhabitants of Jerusalem were practically cut off from all outside intercourse. V. 9. Except the Lord of hosts, Jehovah Sabaoth, in whose hands, after all, are the destinies of all people and especially of His Church Militant, had left unto us a very small remnant, some who had escaped the general desolation behind the walls of Jerusalem, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah, visited by a total destruction. Thus far God’s judgment upon the backsliding Jews had proceeded. But the climax of His punishment had not yet struck Jerusalem; there were still such as had escaped. Let all sinners everywhere heed the warning of the Lord, lest the final judgment strike them.
REBUKE OF HYPOCRITICAL WORSHIP. — V. 10. Hear the Word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom, for as such Jehovah addresses the princes of Jerusalem; give ear unto the Law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah, whose conduct was characterized by pride, the lust of the flesh, and lack of mercy. The thought underlying this turn of the prophet’s solemn appeal is this, that the Jews might have desired to object to his rebuke by pointing to the apparent splendor of the Temple-worship. V. 11. To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto Me? saith the Lord, for the people were still observing the letter of the Law with great exactness, depending upon this outward fulfillment of God’s command as sufficient to gain and retain His good will toward them. I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, He is surfeited with their dead worship, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats, such sacrifices indeed having been commanded by the Lord, but not in a lifeless, mechanical form of worship, for such hypocritical conduct is ever an abomination to the Lord. V. 12. When ye come to appear before Me, namely, in person, to attend any of the festivals of the Jewish Church, who hath required this at your hand to tread My courts? The presence of a person’s body in the place of worship, without worship in spirit and in truth, is of no value, for all hypocrites and Christians in name only trample the Lord’s courts and waste the Church’s property without benefit to themselves. V. 13. Bring no more vain oblations, offerings of vanity and lying, the reference being to such as were made of flour, principally in the form of fried and boiled cakes; Incense is an abomination unto Me, namely, if brought by a mere mechanical act; the new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, as it was solemnly done at the direction of the priests and rulers, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting, rather, “I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly,” namely, as practiced by these people. V. 14. Your new moons and your appointed feasts My soul hateth, they are a matter of loathing to Him on account of the total lack of spirituality in the people; they are a trouble, a grievous burden, unto Me; I am weary to bear them, He must soon shake them off and reward the hypocrites according to their deserts. V. 15. And when ye spread forth your hands, in a gesture which is a caricature of true prayer, I will hide Mine eyes from you, His eyes, as it were, finding themselves unable to look upon such hypocrisy; yea, when ye make many prayers, in the foolish belief that mere lip-service is sufficient before Him, I will not hear; your hands are full of blood, for the people of Jerusalem and Judah were guilty of violence and injustice before God, by which they had become murderers in His eyes. Those who do not serve the Lord in spirit and in truth also lose all true love and mercy over against their neighbor, and therefore the sighing of the afflicted becomes an obstruction between them and the Lord and hinders the effect of their prayers.
SUGGESTING THE ONLY WAY OF RELIEF. — V. 16. Wash you, in a true and thorough cleansing of the heart, make you clean, namely, from the polluting effect of their wicked behavior; put away the evil of your doings from before Mine eyes, so that it will no longer be within the range of His vision, these three admonitions being the negative demands made by the Lord; cease to do evil, withdrawing from its influence, overcoming it by a steady wrestling against its influence; v. 17. learn to do well, not the mere knowing, but the doing being emphasized; seek judgment, doing that which is right in the eyes of God, relieve the oppressed, aiding them in obtaining justice, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow; for orphans and widows, those deprived of their natural protectors, are in the ward of God, tinder His protection, in a special sense. Thus the Lord demands repentance, a change of life. From this it does not follow that man, by his own reason and strength, is able to change his heart and mind in the sight of God, but the Lord’s admonitions are a powerful factor in bringing about such a change. The Lord now pictures the situation as it obtains. V. 18. Come now and let us reason together, saith the Lord, the case being brought to trial before His tribunal, the children of Israel standing before Him as condemned culprits. Though your sins be as scarlet, blood-red with guilt, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, the color apparently fast and fixed beyond the possibility of fading, they shall be as wool. Such is the remarkable sentence of the Lord. His people, though laden with guilt, are not condemned to everlasting damnation, but God gives and imputes to them perfect righteousness. Here the meaning of justification becomes clear, for God declares the ungodly, the guilty, to be innocent, clean, holy, and righteous in His sight. Cp. Rom. 4, 5. And this righteousness is obtained and transmitted through the redemption gained by the blood of Christ. The sentence of God is passed regardless of the attitude of man; it is spoken for His own sake, by virtue of the perfect righteousness and the complete atonement of Jesus Christ. But the sentence of God is now proclaimed to sinners in order that they may accept and believe His offer of grace and salvation. V. 19. If ye be willing and obedient, hearing and believing His joyous verdict concerning the forgiveness of sins, ye shall eat the good of the land, become partakers of salvation, of eternal life; v. 20. but if ye refuse and rebel, despising and rejecting the grace of God obtained by the vicarious suffering of Christ, ye shall be devoured with the sword, become victims of eternal destruction; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. “He that believeth not shall be damned.” Mark 16, 16.
THE LORD’S COMPLAINT AGAINST JERUSALEM.— V. 21. How is the faithful city, Jerusalem with its representative inhabitants, formerly excelling in faithfulness to Jehovah, become an harlot, given to spiritual adultery or idolatry! It was full of judgment, justice in agreement with the Law of God being practiced in the city; righteousness lodged in it, being at home there at one time; but now murderers, for violence, tyranny, oppression are transgressions of the Fifth Commandment. V. 22. Thy silver, the princes and rulers, which formerly distinguished the city, is become dross, thy wine, the leaders and nobles, mixed with water, that is, the judges and rulers of the city had turned from integrity and sincerity to moral impurity; v. 23. thy princes are rebellious, obstinately opposing God and His covenant, and companions of thieves, thinking only of ways and means to satisfy their greed; every one loveth gifts, expecting bribes, and followeth after rewards, openly seeking money for selling right to the highest bidder; they judge not the fatherless, that is, they do not see to it that orphans receive justice, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them, so that they might receive that which is due to them. Such is ever the case in times of apostasy; for it is then that tyranny and oppression, faithlessness and blasphemy, reign, and the efforts. of the few believers seem to count almost for nothing. V. 24. Therefore saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel, He who possesses absolute power over all the fortunes and actions of men, Ah! I will ease Me of Mine adversaries, have the satisfaction of punishing them for their attitude against Him, and avenge Me of Mine enemies, by punishing them in His wrath and thus working satisfaction to His holiness; v.25. and I will turn My hand upon thee, namely, against Jerusalem, the faithless, sinful city, and purely purge away thy dross, melting it out with lye, removing the obstinate and wicked leaders, and take away all thy tin, the lead mixed with the precious metal, the ungodly in high and low places; v.26. and I will restore thy judges as at the first, men possessing the integrity of the original days, and thy counselors as at the beginning, in the golden period of Israel’s history. Afterward thou shalt be called The City of Righteousness, the Faithful City, where true righteousness and dependable loyalty would be found always. We have here a reference to the true Israel of the New Testament, to the Church of Jesus Christ, in the perfection of its nature as wrought by Jesus Christ. V. 27. Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, through the redemption of the Messiah, and her converts with righteousness, for with the guilt of mankind laid upon Christ and the full atonement demanded of Him, the way is paved for the complete appeasing of God’s wrath, the basis of justification. V. 28. And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, for rejecting the Lord, and they that forsake the Lord, refusing to change their evil mind, shall be consumed, this being the fate of all obstinate sinners at all times. V. 29. For they shall be ashamed of the oaks, or terebinths, which ye have desired, they will be brought to shame on account of the groves where they practiced idolatry, and ye shall be confounded for the gardens that ye have chosen, where idolatry and other vices held full sway. V. 30. For ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth, dying for want of nourishment, and as a garden that hath no water, whose flowers and fruits are bound to die. V. 31. And the strong shall be as tow, that is, the well-to-do will be as a lamp-wick, and the maker of it as a spark, rather, his work as a spark, for the idol causes a consuming fire, which devours the idolaters themselves, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them. When the final Judgment comes and the fate of men has been decided, then the verdict of condemnation will strike the ungodly, and their worm will not die, neither will their fire be quenched, and they will be an abomination to all flesh.