(When I taught my two year long Bible study on Isaiah, I used The Pulpit Commentary Volume 10: Isaiah edited by H.D.M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell to give me a starting point and rough outline of the material covered in the chapters. In this article, when you read the phrase “my commentary”, I am referring to this volume.)
When we read chapter 1, we will see that not only does the speaker alternate between Isaiah and the Lord (God), but also the audience alternates, between the Heavens & the Earth (verse 2) and Judah. You’ll be able to notice the switch among the speakers and audiences by the use of quotes and the change in pronouns (“they” and “you”, indicating the audience.)
The impression you have as you read this chapter is that of an argument or case being presented before a neutral third party, a mediator. You get the sense that Judah is the accused, Isaiah and the Lord are the prosecutors (as well as the witnesses for the prosecution) and the Heavens & the Earth are the objective listeners, the judge and jury. Some sort of dispute is being presented and argued, one in which the Lord hopes to resolve with Judah. A key verse is 1:18a “come let us reason together…”
Read Isaiah 1:1-2a. Isaiah begins by speaking to the Heavens & the Earth.
Read Isaiah 1:2a-3. The Lord speaks to the Heavens & the Earth. What does this section say about how God views Himself and Judah?
— He describes Himself as a father, one who has reared children; this implies love, parental discipline; a parent grieving for his children.
— the people of Judah are the children, but they have rebelled against their father, the Lord. God compares them to dumb animals, the donkey and the ox, which know who their master is and where to go for food and shelter (they trust their master and obey). Judah doesn’t even understand or acknowledge that they are children and owe God their obedience.
They have abandoned God.
Read Isaiah 1:4. Isaiah speaks to the Heavens & the Earth (notice the lack of quotes and the pronoun “they.”) He calls Judah sinful, guilty, evil, and corrupt.
Why? Because they have forsaken the Lord, their father. They once knew Him and His ways and were obedient. In order to be guilty they can’t be ignorant of the truth.
— they were trained in righteousness; God gave them the 10 Commandments, judges, prophets, they knew right from wrong
— they were shown the difference between good and evil and choose evil, chose corruption
spurned means to reject or refuse disdainfully, scorn, to trample or tread on
“turned their backs on him” – this means they did not listen to Him, they ignored Him, they did not take his advice. This implies that they once did listen to Him, once faced Him and looked Him in the eye and did as He asked. This shows the destruction of a relationship.
Besides this trampling on this relationship, what else was Judah demonstrating with this attitude?
— a great ingratitude for all the past things God had done for them (rescue from Egypt, many victories in battle when they were right with God, His past protection from enemies)
— that they didn’t want to give up their will and follow God; they wanted to do things their way
— that they didn’t believe that God was really the Creator and all-powerful; if they did, they would be afraid to treat Him this way
— that they didn’t care about God’s blessings, that they weren’t all that important. If God’s potential blessings were important to them, they would want to curry God’s favor. Fleshly, worldly blessings that they could make for themselves were more important than the spiritual blessings God could provide.
After everything that God had done for Judah, this rejection must have caused great pain to God.
But God loves Judah and like a parent of a rebellious child, He wants to repair the broken relationship, even though He is not at fault in any way and the child doesn’t want reconciliation.
Read Isaiah 1:5-6 Isaiah is speaking to Judah and graphically describes a beating. He implies that Judah is being punished by God because God wants to shake them up and bring them out of their rebellion.
It sounds like child abuse except in this case if the child were but to make the smallest cry or whimper or acknowledgement of his hurt, God would stop the hurting. But Judah won’t even acknowledge that they are being hurt/struck/disciplined. It is Judah that decides whether they will continue to be wounded; God would gladly bind and sooth the welts if Judah would but turn to God like a repented child turns to His father.
Parents know that if you love your child you discipline him (obviously you don’t physically strike a child as described here), but if you let a child get away with rebellion and disobedience, in the long run you will end up with a discontented, self-centered, destructive child, which you’ll hesitate to take into public. He will be a disgrace to his parents and a grief to others. But a child who has been trained and raised in righteousness will be a joy and glory to his parents.
Read Proverbs 19:18. God also knows that if He does not discipline Judah, He would be leaving them to their spiritual deaths.
This realization brought home to me, quite dramatically, one of the purposes of all the plagues and punishments described in Revelation.
Read Revelation 9:17-21. God is not only acting as Judge, but He is also trying to get the people of the world to repent and return to him. These plagues will be, incredibly as it appears, in part, acts of compassion, just as Judah’s troubles described in Isaiah are actually acts of compassion.
To be continued…
H.D.M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell (editors). The Pulpit Commentary Volume 10: Isaiah