Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Isaiah 1: 21-26

Zion Corrupted, to Be Redeemed
 21 How the faithful city has become a harlot,
She who was full of justice!
Righteousness once lodged in her,
But now murderers.
22 Your silver has become dross,
Your drink diluted with water.
23 Your rulers are rebels
And companions of thieves;
Everyone loves a bribe
And chases after rewards.
They do not defend the orphan,
Nor does the widow’s plea come before them.   
24 Therefore the Lord GOD of hosts,
The Mighty One of Israel, declares,
“Ah, I will be relieved of My adversaries
And avenge Myself on My foes.
25 “I will also turn My hand against you,
And will smelt away your dross as with lye
And will remove all your alloy.
26 “Then I will restore your judges as at the first,
And your counselors as at the beginning;
After that you will be called the city of righteousness,
A faithful city.”

I mentioned last week to remember the words of grace spoken by God in our passage. Sure enough, I find myself struggling to read and write about the words facing Jerusalem in our passage this week. "How the faithful city has become a harlot...," says verse 21. This transports me back to the beginnings of Hosea, when Israel receives the same designation. Isaiah paints Jerusalem as a has-been city--one that had everything going for it, but now stands self-corrupted.

Isaiah compares Jerusalem to both silver and drink, as in wine, although neither are respectable. "Your silver has become dross. Your drink diluted with water." (vs. 22) That latter one might cause you to spit! The first reference may require some explaining.

As is the case with other metals, minerals or gems, one must take the raw material through a process to make it valuable. Smelting is the process used to refine metals, like silver. The unwanted substances and impurities in the silver are called dross. Where Jerusalem had once shone bright like silver--both literally, in its successful business enterprises, and figuratively, as in its honorable obedience to God--it now appeared as dross, or, as the Hebrew word is defined, "refuse." [Strong's]

"Dross may shine like silver, and the wine that is mixed with water may retain the colour of wine, but neither is worth any thing. Thus they retained a show and pretence of virtue and justice, but had no true sense of either."
--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

"Like an earthen vessel overlaid with silver dross are burning lips and a wicked heart."
--Proverbs 26:23

That might as well be a description of Jerusalem.

The Apostle Paul's words in the New Testament come to us in Greek, not Hebrew, but he also used a word meaning refuse in regard to the purity of the relationship He was constantly seeking with God. It was as if he were saying, "Smelt away the dross from me!"

"But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ...."
--Philippians 3: 7 and 8 (emphasis mine)

Verse 23 of Isaiah takes the cleansing, instructional words of verse 17 and flips them on their ears, to represent the "evil" that Jerusalem demonstrates in its actions. Rather than "reprove the ruthless" (vs 17), we read "Your rulers are rebels," and "Everyone loves a bribe" (vs. 23); "Defend the orphan" (vs 17) vs. "They do not defend...." (vs 23); and "Plead for the widow" (vs 17) vs. "Nor does the widow's plea come...." (vs 23). It's flat-out disobedience, and God has a plan to deal with this problem, one He laid ground for back in Israel's wilderness days:

"If you are not careful to observe all the words of this law which are written in this book, to fear this honored and awesome name, the LORD your God...It shall come about that as the LORD delighted over you to prosper you, and multiply you, so the LORD will delight over you to make you perish and destroy you; and you will be torn from the land where you are entering to possess it."
--Deuteronomy 28: 58a and 63

The same Judge is still in His courtroom with Jerusalem, and He's like no other judge anywhere. Isaiah's titles, "the Lord God of hosts" and "the Mighty One of Israel," both point to God being the ultimate authority. Not just the Law, but the One who issues and carries out the punishments. But, in verse 24, God's judgments do not refer to the present time of Jerusalem's corruption. The sentence of Babylonian captivity is not what we read about in the next couple of verses. The time frame for this period of judgment refers to the end times--a final judgment and restoration period for Jerusalem.

As I read the quote from God in verse 24, I can't help but see Him on His throne, ruminating that future day on His calendar when He will once and for all rid Himself of His enemies. The saints in Heaven say, how much longer? The day is coming when God will have His Day.

"He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years." 
--Malachi 3: 3 and 4

Isaiah returns to the use of 'smelt' in verse 25 as we understand further the process that God must bring forth in order to reestablish, once and for all, a permanent, perfect relationship with His chosen people. A Holy God cannot be in the presence of dross! So all that is unholy will be purged away. The "sons of Levi" refers to those who kept the Temple. Yes, there are "wolves in sheep's clothing" [Matthew 7:15] in the religious establishments of our world who will be held accountable for their allegiances.

"Then," begins verse 26, "I will restore...." Jerusalem will return to Glory days--the Shekinah will be in the sights of those on Earth again--as the Son of Man returns to reign in His "city of righteousness, a faithful city."

Redemption, but not for all. Chapter 1 concludes.... 'Til next Wednesday!


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Next week: Isaiah 1: 27-31

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).