Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Isaiah 1: 16-20

 16 “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight.
Cease to do evil, 17 Learn to do good;
Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless,
Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.
“Let Us Reason”
 18 “Come now, and let us reason together,”
Says the LORD,
“Though your sins are as scarlet,
They will be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They will be like wool.
19If you consent and obey,
You will eat the best of the land;
20 “But if you refuse and rebel,
You will be devoured by the sword.”
Truly, the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

What do you do when your hands are covered in the blood of sin? You "wash yourselves, make yourselves clean," says Isaiah in today's opening verses from Chapter 1, picking up from last week's post. For Judah in these days, such a cleansing would involve a two-fold process:

"I shall wash my hands in innocence,
And I will go about Your altar, O LORD...."
--Psalm 26:6

Following the law of Moses in the procedures of sacrifices and offerings was the second step of the process. The first was for the people to see the error of their ways and to "clean up their act," meaning, what God adds in verse 16, "Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight." Truly, if we don't intend to change that which we know (or have been told, according to God) is wrong, we shouldn't be approaching the Lord's altar for forgiveness anyway. Not that we'll be perfect from then on, but at least we won't come to Him under false pretenses.

"As justice and charity will never atone for atheism and profaneness, so prayers and sacrifices will never atone for fraud and oppression; for righteousness towards men is as much a branch of pure religion as religion towards God is a branch of universal righteousness."
--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

My study Bible says that this section of text is a "preview" of the last 27 chapters of Isaiah. Today, we receive some words of grace by God in the midst of chapters and chapters of judgment. Soak it up! We need to remember that these words were said and will hold fast, even as the reading gets tougher to hear as we go forward.

"Learn to do good," says verse 17. I love that it doesn't just say "do good." It says, "learn." We are not born perfect doers, and the process of learning to make right choices seemingly lasts a lifetime--even though there are some things you would hope you would catch on to sooner rather than later. For Judah, there are some things they should have known from long ago. But did the present generation hear the words that their fathers and grandfathers and ancestors were supposed to carry forward, per the Word of God? We can ask ourselves the same question of our generation today.

This was a nation that lacked Godly justice and love, hence God's direction in this verse, which, to me, again, speaks loudly of James in the New Testament:

"Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world."
--James 1:27, The Message

Isaiah, Chapter 1, from the beginning, reads a bit like a court hearing, with God, the Judge, presiding and Judah hearing the reading of the record of charges against them. But the Judge now pauses over the indictment, if you will, calling Judah to plainly see their case through His eyes, as He knows they can. "Come now, and let us reason together...." (vs 18) 'Reason' in Hebrew means, "to be right (i.e. correct); reciprocally, to argue; causatively, to decide, justify or convict." [Strong's]

Is God out to convict? In matters of Judah's heart? Oh, yeah! Is God out to sentence, as in life-condemning punishment? He would rather not. I think He's speaking as a Father to His children, knowing the plans He has for them ("a future and a hope," Jeremiah 29:11). "Judah, child, look at what you have done. Can you not see your mistakes? You know better. I have told you how to live."

As verse 18 continues, can you not picture King David, wracked by the same kind of blood-guilt, as his indiscretion with Bathsheba and the murder--by his command--of Uriah the Hittite is brought into the light by the prophet, Nathan? Psalm 51 is labeled in the NASB as, "A Contrite Sinner's Prayer for Pardon." The World English Dictionary offers several definitions for 'contrite' including, "remorseful for past sin and resolved to avoid future sin." Here was something Judah had forgotten, or was struggling to learn.

"Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow."

--Psalm 51:7

A sinner must recognize the gravity of sin before seeking confession and repentance. There is an action step that needs to be taken on the part of the sinner. Then, there is grace through merciful pardoning God. Otherwise, God has no reason to even consider us standing before Him. Notice the echoing of the "wash yourselves" reference from Isaiah 1:16, as God says that He, too, will wash Himself of Judah's sins, restoring the people to be "as snow" and "as wool" again.

God may not be sentencing, here, but that doesn't mean that He backing down from discipline, nor does He withdraw Judah's free will. See verse 19: "If you consent (or, "if ye be willing," in the King James Version) and obey...." Judah could try and argue their case, but they would clearly have nothing solid to stand upon in their defense. God is speaking to their free will in saying, "if." This is not unlike the message He spoke unto Judah's forefathers before their entering the Promised Land:

"See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity...."
--Deuteronomy 30:15

God presents the choices. However, the decision as to what to follow remains Judah's. Isaiah writes a lovely parallel in saying the people will either "eat" of the best or "be devoured" by the worst. Oh, for Judah to "taste and see that the Lord is good." (Psalm 34:8)

"...So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him...."
--Deuteronomy 30: 19b & 20a

Of course, they don't.

Judah becomes "a harlot" and God cleans up.... 'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week: Isaiah 1: 21-26

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).

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