Judah’s Sinful Condition

Isa. 1:1-9

The Prophet’s Theme: The Holy One of Israel – Redeeming Judge Isa 1:24 Isa 1:27

20 occurrences of “the Holy One of Israel”

114 Messianic prophecies, more than any other book including Psalms

God’s message through Isaiah is directed primarily but not exclusively to the southern kingdom, Judah, but especially to Jerusalem. Judah gradually fades into the background as Jerusalem takes center stage, perhaps as the representative of God’s elect people, the Old Testament church.

With minimal fanfare or introduction, Isaiah begins his written ministry with a divine announcement: Order in the Court: the Judge calls the Universe as witnesses to the charge he has against his people. The Judge is the covenant God, the one who formed the universe and Israel into a nation, the one who is in covenant relationship with his people.

Yet it is almost as if there were alternating voices as God takes the part of the Judge, putting his people on trial for their sinful rebellion, and then takes the part of the compassionate Redeemer, pleading with his people to heed his fatherly chastisement and return to him. There is further contrast as he calls upon the created inanimate universe to witness the great sinfulness of his children, not for the purpose of rendering a verdict but to demonstrate just how far they had fallen away from their first condition.

A. The charge v. 2-4

My children have rebelled against me.

What makes it especially painful is that it is children who have rebelled; it’s not neighbors, friends, in-laws, employees, but children. Those who were children by virtue of their creation and by God’s covenant with them. God had done great and mighty things to form these people into a nation – their deliverance from Egypt and the accompanying wonders; the gracious giving of laws to instruct them how they might please God in all spheres of life; their preservation through 40 years of wandering in the desert; their conquest of the land promised to them.

At creation man was given dominion over the animals in part because of his superior intellect and knowledge. Yet here the order is reversed: brute animals demonstrate greater understanding than Judah does; they recognize their owners and act more wisely than do those who should know better. It puts a little extra sting into the charge as God makes the comparison between his children and animals known for their dullness; even stupid animals respond in a better way to their owners than Judah has to God. Especially in light of God’s gracious and loving dealings with his people over the previous 7 centuries, their failure to walk in his ways is inexcusable.

Four terms are used to identify the defendants: nation, people, brood, children. Each term is coupled with a characterization of their guilt; as the charges are stated, the focus narrows from the nation as a whole down to individual children. A nation that is habitually sinful, a people bowed down with the crushing weight of iniquity, a brood who practice greater evil than their parents, chldren bent on self-destruction and the destruction of others – this is what the nation has become, in stark contrast to their godly heritage. In the royal period following Isaiah’s prophetic ministry “Manasseh led Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem astray, to do more evil than the nations whom the LORD destroyed before the people of Israel.” 2 Chr 33:9

In a final round of charges, Judah is described as having completely apostatized from God, having abandoned the Lord and his covenant with them. They have moved from a position of loving dependence on their Sovereign to that of complete contempt, despising not only the Holy One of Israel but also the holiness that he represents and that he expects of them – “You shall be holy, for I am holy” Lev. 11:44-45 Lev. 19:2 Lev. 20:26. Finally, they have turned their backs on God in order to seek elsewhere for that which will satisfy.

B. The plea v. 5-6

Why do you make me keep punishing you?

What area of your life has escaped consequences? – the question can be taken both ways. Here God makes a direct connection between Judah’s sinfulness and her coming oppression under his rod of discipline. It is a picture of a stubbornly rebellious child who refuses to turn away from sinful behavior even though the stakes get higher with each act of defiance. The child is so intent on being bad that no thought is given to consequences and dealing with them, even after an extended period of “attempted” correction.

It seems as though the hardships God has sent their way has hardened them in their rebellion, made them more determined to do things their own way rather than turn back to God and his ways. Perhaps they have reached the point that from their inward perspective they have nothing left to lose by continuing in their hard-hearted ways.

If God were a parent like us, this would be the time when frustration with the wayward child really escalates. It is so obvious, so plain for all to see, keep on in the present course and the only result will be total disaster. “How painful must it get before you come to your senses?” There is no other alternative, since nothing short of absolute loss and humiliation has resulted in repentance.

We must be careful not to forget an important principle: God never inflicts pain on his children merely so he can be glorified when he heals them. God’s intent in bringing pain and suffering to Judah was to show them the cost of their sin and encourage them to remember the blessings which accompany obedience. The goal as with all discipline was reconciliation and restoration.

C. The prophecy v. 7-8

You will be destroyed and abandoned.

The prophecy was given as if retribution had already occurred even though it would be nearly another 20 years before the fall of Israel (the northern kingdom). God through his prophet describes a land invaded, plundered, left devastated and desolate by foreigners, those alien to the covenant community. Perhaps included in the prophetic warning is a comparison – as God had done to the foreigners, the inhabitants of Canaan in an earlier era whom Judah is now emulating, so he would do to them. Adding to the poignancy of Isaiah’s description is the stark contrast between desolate Judah pillaged by the barbarians and the “land flowing with milk and honey” of Joshua’s day.

God’s warning is directed at Judah, especially Jerusalem; but his issue is not with the land or city, it is with the people. And so he makes his intent clear: it is your country, your cities, your land which will be reduced to a pitiable condition. A dysfunctional family structure, a corrupt government, an idolatrous church had been ineffectual in drawing the people’s attention to the fact that something was wrong, that help from outside themselves was needed, that a course correction was required to avert certain disaster. And for all that, the individuals who comprised families, government and church were responsible.

Even the Holy City would not escape unscathed; although left standing, it would retain none of its former glory. Isaiah pictures it here as a booth or a hut, temporary structures built hastily with whatever materials were close by and not intended to serve as permanent dwellings. Yet it is significant the City still stands! Unlike the surrounding land, Zion had not been reduced to rubble but remained mutely testifying to God’s gracious preservation of a remnant.

D. The hope v. 9

He has left us a few survivors.

Isaiah in true servant style identifies with his people and declares that but for God’s intervention Judah would have been thoroughly destroyed. Just as Sodom and Gomorrah had no survivors (Lot and his family left before destruction fell on Sodom) so even Zion would have suffered the same but for the grace of God. Small, insignificant, nearly undetectable though it might be, it was nonetheless a remnant preserved from which would eventually come the One who would sit on David’s throne forever.

The state of the nation was such that it required the might of the Lord of Hosts to save it from extinction. It was in fact the Sovereign Ruler of armies who set limits beyond which the armies of men were powerless to pass. More disturbing, perhaps, it was that same Sovereign Ruler who used world powers and their armies to bring discipline to his people.

But as dire as the prophetic word was, God did not leave his people without hope – there would be a remnant preserved. In the historical context the remnant was necessary to preserve the line of Christ and accomplish the redemption of his people. In application to our culture – if God were pleased to bring his rod of discipline down on our nation, we can be assured he will spare the remnant, the faithful members of the true church, from destruction.

Whereas the delay of judgment also involves postponement of blessing, nevertheless the fact of the choice of the remnant is evidence that God is fulfilling His purposes in history. Here, then, is the true philosophy of history. It is because of the elect that the world remains. The wickedness of the world is permitted to continue until the time of punishment has come. That dime is delayed, for God is truly the God of the heathen also, a God of long-suffering and mercy. At the same time, in that delay, the delay of the full accomplishment of the blessing is also involved. The preserving of a remnant, however, is a step toward the fulfillment of the promise of blessing. E. J. Young

May we be faithful servants, true members of the true church left here in the world to be salt and light so that the heathen may come to Christ.

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