Isaiah Chapter 1 -A Picture of a Nation in Decline
The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Is 1:1
OK I’m just going to put it on the table – chapter one of Isaiah starts with a huge heavy! In this chapter God opens up the case against the southern Kingdom Judah, and its king Ahaz. But before we dig in, let’s look at a little background:
- This period of Israel’s history is told in 2 Kings 15 through 21 and 2 Chronicles 26 through 33.
- By this time, Israel had been in the Promised Land for almost 700 years. The first 400 years in Canaan, Israel was ruled by judges, spiritual, military, and political leaders God raised up as the occasion demanded. Then, for about 120 years, three kings reigned over all Israel: Saul, David, and Solomon. But in 917 B.C. after Solomon died a civil war ensued (1 Kings 11-12), and Israel remained divided into two nations, Israel (to the north) and Judah (to the south) up until the time of Isaiah.
- Up until the time of Isaiah, the northern kingdom of Israel had some 18 kings – all of them bad, and rebellious against the LORD. The southern kingdom of Judah had some 11 kings before Isaiah’s ministry, some good and some bad.
- In the time of Isaiah, Israel was a small nation often caught in the middle of the wars between three superpowers: Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon.
- As Isaiah’s ministry began, there was a national crisis in the northern kingdom of Israel. The superpower of Assyria was about to engulf the nation of Israel. During the span of his ministry as a prophet, the southern kingdom of Judah was faced with repeated threats from the larger surrounding nations.
- The name Isaiah means Salvation is of the LORD.
(source: David Guzic, Enduring Word Media www.enduringword.com)
The book of Isaiah has been called “The Fifth Gospel,” as some of the clearest Messianic prophecies come from the pen of Isaiah. At the synagogue in Nazareth, when Jesus went to explain His ministry, He opened the scroll to Isaiah 61.
Jesus’ virgin birth, His sinless character – His life, miracles, suffering, death, resurrection, second coming, and future Kingdom are all addressed by Isaiah. In fact, the word “Isaiah” means “Jehovah is salvation.” His book proves Jesus is God’s Savior.
Isaiah is also called the “mini-bible,” as the book consists of 66 chapters. The first 39 speak of God’s Law, and His judgment on a people who had violated that Law. The last 27 chapters discuss God’s grace, and His plan to bring salvation to the punished nation. Ironically, just as Isaiah consists of 66 chapters, the Bible consists of 66 books – and it too is divided along the same lines as Isaiah. The Old Testament is made up of 39 books, and speak of God’s Law, and the consequences of disobedience. The 27 books of the New Testament speak of God’s grace, and the plan God uses to bring about salvation.
As I noted earlier, this chapter opens with some pretty harsh charges against Judah, but it’s important to keep the message in context;God’s heart isn’t to destroy Judah, He is calling them to repent.
First, let’s look at the situation God is pointing out:
…the ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, My people do not consider.” Alas, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a brood of evildoers, children who are corrupters! They have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked to anger the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away backward. (vs 3-4)
God is pointing out the folly of turning away from the Lord – sin confuses us to to the point that we are no smarter than animals, actually less so! See, even a dumb farm animal knows to go to the barn for food and shelter. But when we turn from the Lord, our sin causes us to lose sight of the shelter and truth of the one who loves us.
It causes us to run to places that expose us to the harshness of the world, and seek nourishment from the places that only feed us poison. And because of their sin, the nation is sick – from head to toe:
The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faints. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, (vs 5-6)
Now it’s not as if God has been silently watching all of this, and is waiting to spring sudden, unannounced judgment, God has actually been warning Judah:
Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire; strangers devour your land in your presence; and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers. (vs 7)
During the reign of Ahaz, Judah was attacked and pillaged by Israel, Syria, Edom, the Philistines, and Assyria (2 Chronicles 28). It was written of this period:
For the LORD brought Judah low because of Ahaz king of Israel, for he had encouraged moral decline in Judah and had been continually unfaithful to the LORD. (2 Chronicles 28:19)
…yet despite these warnings, Judah would not repent. Their sin brought them great trouble, but they still preferred their sin, with all of its trouble, rather than submitting to the LORD God. In fact, Ahaz become more unfaithful during this time;
Now in the time of his distress King Ahaz became increasingly unfaithful to the LORD. (2 Chronicles 28:22)
Yet unbelievably, in the midst of their sin and sickness, there is active religion taking place! The priests were active in the temple, and so-called prophets were advising King Ahaz that everything was just fine, the Lord was with them! Yet God is not fooled:
“To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?” Says the LORD. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs or goats. When you come to appear before Me, who has required this from your hand, to trample My courts? Bring no more futile sacrifices; incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies; I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; they are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood.” (vs 11-15)
To me the condition of Judah reflects the folly of man, and the deceptive nature of sin, and I can see a similar set of conditions in our own country. The further that our country moves away from God, the worst our condition becomes. There is a veneer of beauty, technology, and success that is plastered over a core of sin that is making our country sicker and sicker.
- Just like Judah, we are experiencing trials that may not have wiped us out, but we’re feeling the sting.
- Just like Judah there is a great deal of religiosity that feels good, but it is empty and meaningless to God.
- Just like Judah, our ‘prophets’ and counselors tell us that everything is fine, the future is bright, but it’s false prophecy.
- Just like Judah, our leaders are only looking out for themselves:
Your princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves; everyone loves bribes, and follows after rewards. They do not defend the fatherless, nor does the cause of the widow come before them. (vs 23)
Yet in spite of the terrible condition of the kingdom, its people, its priests, and its leaders, Gods desire is not to destroy, but to redeem. In verses 16-20, God offers the cure for Judah’s disease;
“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.” “Come now, and let us reason together,” says the LORD, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword”; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken. (vs 16-20)
Perhaps those words bring back a memory, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” This verse was the basis of a hymn written in 1880 by Frances J. Crosby;
Oh, return ye unto God!
Oh, return ye unto God!
He’ll forgive your transgressions,
And remember them no more;
That is the Lord’s heart cry to all that have turned from Him: “Repent! Return to Me, and I will restore you!”
Of course, we know the end of this story – Judah does not repent, and judgment comes to the kingdom. But again the heart of God is revealed, as God doesn’t totally abandon the nation; He uses His judgment to refine them, to remove their sin, and after the judgment has done its corrective work, Judah, and more importantly, Jerusalem, will again glorify God.
To download the daily reading plan for Isaiah, CLICK HERE.
To check out a great online commentary resource for Isaiah, CLICK HERE.