Chapter OneIsaiah 1:1-9
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The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah
son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham,
Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
2 Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! For the Lord has spoken: "I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me.
3 The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner's manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand."
4 Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the Lord; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel
and turned their backs on him.
5 Why should you be beaten anymore? Why do you persist in rebellion? Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted.
6 From the sole of your foot to the top of your head
there is no soundness-
only wounds and welts
and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged
or soothed with oil.
7 Your country is desolate, your cities burned with fire; your fields are being stripped by foreigners
right before you, laid waste as when overthrown by strangers.
8 The Daughter of Zion is left
like a shelter in a vineyard, like a hut in a field of melons, like a city under siege.
9 Unless the Lord Almighty
had left us some survivors, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.
The opening nine verses of Isaiah introduce the
author and time of composition and summarize
the charge of God and also of Isaiah against the
people of Judah. As such, the verses open both
the book and the introductory section (chs. 1-5). Many commentators
believe that these chapters were put together after the rest of the book for
the express purpose of introducing the finished whole. The unusual position
of the prophet's call in chapter 6 may well support this contention. However,
unless the "Branch of the Lord" in 4:2 refers to the Messiah, the absence of
that theme does raise questions about chapters 1-5 having been consciously
composed as a book introduction. It seems more likely that certain pieces
were collected to introduce the main judgment-hope theme without trying
to summarize everything in the book.
Verse 1 identifies the author of what follows and the time period in which
he wrote. We know nothing more of Isaiah ben Amoz than what is mentioned
in the book, though his easy access to the kings has suggested he may have
been of royal blood. The dates of the four kings mentioned extend from
approximately 690 B.C. to 590 B.C., but chapter 6 makes it plain that Isaiah's
ministry only began in the last year of King Uzziah, about 640 B.C. Jewish
tradition has Isaiah being put to death by Manasseh, but there is no independent
confirmation of this.
The charges are those of rebellion (v. 2) and corruption (v. 4), which have
resulted in desolation. Isaiah concludes (v. 9) that only because of the mercy
of God does the land continue to exist at all. Verse 2 begins with formal-sounding
language as God calls the heavens and earth to witness his charges.
This is reminiscent of Deuteronomy 4:26, where Moses called heaven and
earth to witness the promise that if the people persisted in sin, they would
be expelled from the land of promise. Obedient nature is thus called upon
to witness what God says about rebellious humanity.
This theme of obedient and responsive nature continues in verse 3, where
Israel is said to be less intelligent than an ox or an ass that at least knows where
the barn is. Israel does not know as much and persists in turning its back on
its good Master even when its turning away results in its being beaten (v. 5).
In 1:5-8 Isaiah uses two graphic figures to depict the nation's spiritual condition.
The first (vv. 5-6) is that of a bruised and wounded body that is left
untended; the second (v. 8), that of an abandoned hut in a harvested field. The
harvesters are gone, and the winter winds have blown away most of the odds
and ends used to build the hut. That is what Israel is like. Yet for all of this, it
seems Israel cannot put two and two together and come up with four. If only
they would turn back to the Lord, he would gladly restore the blessings he had
formerly showered on them. But it is a sign of the depth of their rebellion that
even with the evidence of judgment all around them, they will not turn back.
At its heart, this passage is about rebellion and
ignorance-rebellion that brings about certain consequences
and the failure to see the connection
between an action and its consequences. Rebellion
(pesa) is at its heart a refusal to recognize boundaries. But by what right
does "the Holy One of Israel" establish such boundaries (v. 4)? There are
four reasons stated or implied in the passage.
(1) The first is that there is only one Holy One. In the ancient world, "the
holy" defined that which pertained to deity. For Isaiah there was only One
who could be defined as holy. The things that Israel's pagan neighbors worshiped
were certainly not holy. In fact, they were abominations (44:19).
Thus, if there is only one real deity in the universe, that deity certainly has
the right to draw some lines for the rest of the universe.
(2) The Holy One is the Creator. He is the One who set up the boundaries
of earth and heaven. Does he not have a right to establish boundaries
for humans as well?
(3) Next is the right of the covenant Lord. God has entered into a
covenant relationship with humans. He has committed himself to us and in
turn calls us to commit ourselves to him.
(4) There is the right of the Father. Humans are not merely objects to
God, nor are we merely subjects. We are his children (1:2), whom he loves
and cares for. If he establishes boundaries, they are finally established out of
love. When we rebel, it is against the only God, the sole Creator, the
covenant Lord, and the heavenly Father.
Rebellion has consequences. Consequences for spiritual choices are as
certain as consequences for physical choices. Just as a bruised and wounded
body will die if left untended, and just as a lean-to will be blown down if not
constantly maintained, so if we rebel against the Creator of the universe and
reject his ways, spiritual corruption and death will follow. As intelligent
human beings, we should be able to work that equation. Animals seem to
know what is best for them, yet humans do not.
We humans are an interesting lot. When we are
offended, we want instant justice. But when we
offend, we want complete mercy. We demand
consequences when they are in our favor, but we
want to avoid consequences when they are not. Beyond that, while we cannot
deny there are largely inescapable consequences for physical behavior,
we insist there are no comparable consequences for spiritual behavior. We
are not offended by the "law" of gravity. We do not feel that our essential freedoms
have somehow been infringed upon by the fact that if we jump off a
forty-story building, we will do irreparable damage to ourselves. Yet if someone
has the nerve to suggest that there might be comparable "laws" in the spiritual
realm, such a person is treated as if he or she is profoundly evil.
Personal freedom has become an absolute good in the modern world,
regardless of the obviously tragic results when it is pushed to its extremes.
Studies show that the one common denominator in delinquency is the
absence of a father. Yet males continue to imagine that they can father children
whenever and wherever they like without consequences. At the same
time, adults imagine they can have sex without restraints because they can
always kill the unwanted consequences. Others among us imagine that they
can acquire an endless string of material goods without any impact on their
sense of priorities in life.
But Isaiah tells us there are standards for spiritual behavior that are just as
consequential as those in the physical world. They have been established by
the Creator of the universe and are never broken, only crashed up against.
It is the Christians today who need to recover this truth, both for ourselves
and for our children. We live in a society whose hostility to any kind of spiritual
norms is so deep-seated and so pervasive that it comes out on every
hand. We are in danger of imbibing it without even being aware of it, and
our children more so. We must tell ourselves again and again that the Holy
One has not created the law of marital fidelity any more arbitrarily than he
has the law of gravity. Both of these laws simply describe the way he made
us to function.
To require a railroad engine to stay on its tracks is not some infringement
of its basic rights; it is merely to define the circumstance under which that
machine must operate if its potential is to be realized. We must recover this
kind of basic arithmetic of life. Why is it, for example, that all organized
societies forbid lying? It is because for some reason no society where everyone
lies can long exist. And why is that? Does it not argue that it reflects the
nature of a creation where integrity (oneness) is a physical, emotional, and
spiritual necessity? Yet our society has made pleasing oneself the absolute
good when it says, "Oh, everybody lies once in a while. Don't be so narrow."
But we hear Isaiah saying, "Why do you want to keep on smashing into that
brick wall? God does not prohibit lying because he is some heavenly killjoy,
but simply because that is the way he has made the world."
This underlines the necessity of the biblical doctrine of God. Is there a
being in the universe who has the right in his essence (the Holy One), his
nature (Father), his actions (Creator), and his relationships (covenant Lord)
to define the terms of our life? If so, rebellion is not merely the assertion of
our right to be self-determining, but it is an offense against the very nature
of our existence. But we ask, is this not merely to reduce us to robots who
mindlessly follow the program that determines their behavior? And the
answer is clearly no. Given the character of God as defined in the Bible and
particularly in Isaiah, the alternative to rebellion is not mechanical obedience.
For God has not prescribed every action for us. He has merely defined the
outer limits beyond which we may not go without hurting ourselves. Just as
the law of gravity does not render us mindless robots, neither does the law
Interestingly, some states in the United States still have laws on their
books defining what sexual positions between a husband and wife are legal.
There is nothing like that in the Bible. Live creatively within the general
limits the Creator-Father has defined for you and there will be health, productivity,