Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Isaiah 3:13-15

God Will Judge

13 The Lord arises to contend,
And stands to judge the people.
14 The Lord enters into judgment with the elders and princes of His people,
“It is you who have devoured the vineyard;
The plunder of the poor is in your houses.
15 “What do you mean by crushing My people
And grinding the face of the poor?”
Declares the Lord God of hosts.

Short passage in Isaiah today, but one that my study Bible sets off by itself, with the title: "God Will Judge." After laying out the case in earlier verses and the presentation of evidence, as it were, God, as lead Prosecutor and Judge, calls His people on the carpet.

"Listen to the word of the Lord, O sons of Israel,
For the Lord has a case against the inhabitants of the land,
Because there is no faithfulness or kindness
Or knowledge of God in the land."
--Hosea 4:1
If you studied Hosea here in these pages, you'll remember us looking at the word contend. ("Contend with your mother," said Hosea 2:2, as the nation of Israel was grappling with its sinful stance against God.) In the Hebrew, it means to "grapple, wrangle or hold a controversy." [Strong's] God pleads, not in the begging way but in the "Do you see the controversy we have here?" way. The people were not following in obedience or reverence to God, and the leadership was making some drastically unloving, un-Godly decisions. In this Judge's courtroom, the questions asked are rhetorical, as there is nothing the defense can introduce into evidence that can stand.

In verse 14, we read that the elders and princes--those in power--are the ones called into judgment by God specifically. Isaiah began Chapter 3 with a dissertation on the problems with those in charge. In a statement, God says, "'It is you who have devoured the vineyard; the plunder of the poor is in your houses.'" The King James Version uses 'eaten up' for devoured, which, more accurately means consumed by fire. Chapter 5 of Isaiah is "The Parable of the Vineyard," into which we'll look more at the metaphor of the vineyard that is Judah. 'Plunder' does not just mean collected items; there is an application of force suggested, whether actual physical theft or taken through deceptive means, such as by fraud. The leadership of Judah is held responsible for these offenses by God Himself.

"Hear my prayer, O Lord,
Give ear to my supplications!
Answer me in Your faithfulness, in Your righteousness!
And do not enter into judgment with Your servant,
For in Your sight no man living is righteous."
--Psalm 143: 1 and 2

The above would have been a wonderful thought and prayer on behalf of Judah's leaders. But, it was not to be. God did enter into judgment, and, as Israel had failed to recognize, so, too, did Judah fail to recognize that "no man living is righteous."

Verse 15 is so powerfully worded: "'What do you mean by crushing My people and grinding the face of the poor?'" In Hebrew, the word face literally means "that which turns." [Strong's] The face of the poor, which had turned to the leadership to be its earthly guide and support, would be "crushed" and "ground," with its resources devoured and plundered. I am saddened as I think about our worldview today, with the abundance of poor in so many places and hurting in so many ways. Systems that crush and plunder. Attitudes that devour self-worth.

We simply must remember the lesson of last week regarding the sin of showing partiality. "The shew of their countenance [their respect for persons] bears witness against them." (Isaiah 3:9) A champion of the poor, James must have breathed Isaiah's prophecy as air, given how he addressed the Christian Jews of his day:
"My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, 'You sit here in a good place,' and you say to the poor man, 'You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool, 'have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man....'"
--James 2: 1-6 (the sin of partiality; emphasis mine)

Judah's leadership had become a nation of "judges with evil motives." Is it any wonder God's words were intended to cut straight to their hearts: "What do you mean....?" If there's anyone rhetorically grappling for an explanation in this controversy, it's God.

"'What mean you, that you beat my people into pieces? What cause have you for it? What good does it do you?' Or, 'What hurt have they done you? Do you think you had power given you for such a purpose as this?' Note, there is nothing more unaccountable, and yet nothing which must more certainly be accounted for, than the injuries and abuses that are done to God’s people by their persecutors and oppressors. 'You grind the faces of the poor; you put them to as much pain and terror as if they were ground in a mill, and as certainly reduce them to dust by one act of oppression after another.'"
--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

"And the people will be oppressed,
Each one by another, and each one by his neighbor...."
--Isaiah 3:5

"Moreover...." God continues. "Judah's women denounced".... 'Til next Wednesday!


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Next week: Isaiah 3:16-26

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).