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Isaiah 1: Introductory Prophecies: Chapter 6: Divine Reason

God expressed His dissatisfaction with the system of worship in Jerusalem during the days of the prophet Isaiah. The priests and people were following the rituals while their hearts were in a state of rebellion. There is no doubt that they disagreed with Isaiah’s view, for otherwise they would have repented and changed to conform to the mind of God. If they had repented, the judgment would have been canceled. But as we know, it was not.

Isaiah 1:15-17 says,

15 So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. 16 Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil. 17 learn to do good, seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.

When men fail to keep the law, the solution is not to put away the law but to obey it. Isaiah gives specific examples of obedience. As God’s agent, Isaiah revealed the will of God, but because they continued to rebel, God said that He refused to hear their prayers in the temple. Their prayers included prayers for national blessing, prosperity, and protection from all enemies.

Their forefathers had covenanted with God to obey His laws, and conversely, God had promised to bring judgment upon them if they persisted in disobedience (Deut. 28:15-68). They put away the law.

Ultimately, their only salvation was the New Covenant, under which God Himself vowed to take action to make them His people, making Himself responsible to be their God (Deut. 29:12, 13). It can only be done by the will of God, not by the will of men. Men’s will must be changed by a will that is stronger than their own (John 1:13).

The New Covenant has been available far longer than the Old Covenant, but until God opens the blind eyes of the people, they will not think to implement it, nor will they even understand it. So meanwhile, only the remnant of grace has ever lived according to the New Covenant, while the rest remained blind, their eyes “hardened,” as they put it (Deut. 29:4; Rom. 11:7).

So it is to this day.

Settling the Matter

Isaiah 1:18-20 calls for a round-table discussion to “reason together.”

18 “Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool. 19 If you consent and obey, you will eat the best of the land; 20 but if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” Truly, the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Dr. Bullinger tells us in his notes on this verse:

let us reason together. Let us put the matter right, or settle the matter. It means putting an end to all reasoning, rather than an invitation to commence reasoning.”

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary states on page 611,

Let us reason together. Another courtroom term. The Lord was saying, ‘Let us implead one another as plaintiff and defendant at a court of law.”

If we may combine the two opinions above, it appears that God had been reasoning or negotiating with them out of court. Yet because they had refused to come to an amicable agreement, He was now summoning them to court as a last resort. This procedure is also set forth in Matt. 18:15-17. Matt. 5:25 also shows the importance of trying to settle matters out of court. So also God Himself followed this procedure in His case against Jerusalem.

Isaiah had been sent by God to negotiate with both Israel and Judah in order to avoid the judgment of the court. The prophet, however, had failed to secure agreement. The time for out-of-court settlements had ended, so the court date had been established in order to make official the nation’s decision and thereby to receive the final verdict.

The scarlet worm was used to make red dye, which, when applied to wool, was indelible. The prophet compares this to sin, which leaves an indelible mark upon the sinner. Even so, God says, I can remove the stain and make you “white as snow.”

He restates this, saying, “though they (sins) are red like crimson, they will be like (unstained) wool.” To repent and submit to the mercy of the divine court would bring prosperity, where they would figuratively “eat the best of the land.”

This represents God’s final offer of blessing, which was made during the pre-trial negotiations and again during the trial itself. On the other hand, refusing God’s terms of blessing meant that they themselves would “be devoured by the sword.”

In the Song of Moses we read of this same metaphor in Deut. 32:42, where God says, “My sword will devour flesh.” To devour is to consume, destroy, or conquer. In other words, Isaiah says that to continue in rebellion will result in national destruction. Unfortunately, the nation refused to take God’s threat seriously, because they did not believe that the charges were true. After all, they were diligent in performing their duties and rituals as prescribed in the law.

Nonetheless, as we will see, when King Hezekiah came to the throne, he was a righteous king who was able to postpone the divine judgment upon Judah and Jerusalem for another century. But in the end, Judah was consumed by God’s sword wielded by the Babylonians.

The Bloody City

Isaiah 1:21 says,

21 How the faithful city has become a harlot, she who was full of justice! Righteousness [tsedek] once lodged in her, but now murderers.

Here the prophet looks back to earlier days when David reigned in Jerusalem. The purpose of David’s capital city was to make it a “city of righteousness” (Isaiah 1:26), but instead it had degenerated into a city of “murderers.”

A century later, other prophets concurred with this assessment, for Ezekiel 22:2 and Nahum 3:1 call Jerusalem “the bloody city.” (See also Ezekiel 24:6 and 9.) This charge set into motion the removal of God’s glory from the temple in Jerusalem, even as the glory had departed from Shiloh a few centuries earlier (1 Sam. 4:21; Psalm 78:60). Although Hezekiah’s righteous rule delayed the divine judgment upon Jerusalem for another century, ultimately, the divine court ruling took effect, and the glory departed, never to return again.

Ezekiel 10:18 records how “the glory of the Lord departed from the threshold of the temple,” and then later moved to the Mount of Olives (Ezekiel 11:23). From there, it departed to heaven when Jesus ascended from that spot. The glory returned ten days later to the 120 disciples in the upper room on the day of Pentecost, never again to indwell buildings made of wood and stone.

Although Ezekiel actually saw and recorded the departure of God’s glory, his contemporary, Jeremiah, was the one called to issue the divine verdict. Jer. 7:12-15 says,

12 But go now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I made My name to dwell at the first, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel.... 14 Therefore, I will do to the house which is called by My name, in which you trust, and to the place which I gave you and your fathers, as I did to Shiloh. 15 I will cast you out of My sight, as I have cast out all your brothers, all the offspring of Ephraim.

When God departs, He does not return but moves to a new place and does a new thing. He never returned to Shiloh; neither will He return to Jerusalem. The prophet says that God will do to Jerusalem “as I did to Shiloh” and “cast you out of My sight.”

We know from the New Testament that this was actually the fulfillment of an earlier prophecy regarding Hagar and her fleshly children, who too were to be “cast out” (Gal. 4:25, 30). Paul tells us that the earthly, fleshly city of Jerusalem was to fulfill the Hagar prophecy, so that the heavenly Jerusalem (“Sarah”) might receive the glory of God and be the mother of the Kingdom.

In other words, the return of the glory on the day of Pentecost was not a return to Jerusalem as such but to the new spiritual temple that was being established upon the foundation of Christ and the apostles (Eph. 2:20-22). This is a temple built from “living stones” (1 Peter 2:5).

So we see that Isaiah’s prophecy, God’s verdict against Jerusalem in Isaiah 1:21, had enormous implications in the centuries ahead. Though the verdict in Isaiah’s day was postponed for a century, the theme was picked up by later prophets.

In Jesus’ day the city’s propensity for blood as “the bloody city” (Ezekiel 22:2), being inhabited by “murderers” (Isaiah 1:21), came to full fruition in the New Testament.

So Stephen, the first martyr after Christ Himself, told his accusers in Acts 7:52,

52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become.

Jesus Himself had told a parable about Jerusalem, which prophesied of its destruction at the hand of God’s armies—i.e., the Roman armies. Matt. 22:7 says,

7 But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire.

Scripture does not try to hide the truth or mollify the divine judgment in order to please men. The stark truth is that Jerusalem, which should have been the City of Peace, became the City of Bloodshed. As such, it was disqualified and was replaced by a heavenly Jerusalem which is not the old city that the glory forsook in the days of Ezekiel.