Today: [Isaiah 1] Is Jerusalem Sodom and Gomorrah? In this lesson we begin our study of the book of Isaiah. Isaiah was a young man from a privileged family when he began to prophesy during the reign of Uzziah. Though there was a time of relative calm and prosperity Isaiah sounds the alarm against the consequences of the idolatrous practices of the people. As we read the words of the Lord through Isaiah the question is would we be able to have a moment of clarity to look at ourselves with honesty to identify sin and things displeasing to God even though outwardly we were religiously devout?
[Isa 1:1-31 KJV] 1 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. 2 Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. 3 The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: [but] Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider. 4 Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward. 5 Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. 6 From the sole of the foot even unto the head [there is] no soundness in it; [but] wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment. 7 Your country [is] desolate, your cities [are] burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and [it is] desolate, as overthrown by strangers. 8 And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city. 9 Except the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, [and] we should have been like unto Gomorrah. 10 Hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.
Isaiah was a prophet who prophesied to Israel and Judah over the course of 60 years approximately six centuries before the time of Jesus. He came on the scene during the final years of king Uzziah. Uzziah was the king who presumed on the priest’s office and was struck with leprosy as a result. His son Jotham ruled in his place who was a good king and Judah prospered under his reign. Afterwards Isaiah was still ministering and Jotham’s son Ahaz ruled under whom “Judah was brought low” (2 Chron. 28:19) and then Hezekiah ruled in his stead who was a good king replaced by his son Manasseh. Manasseh’s reign was particularly evil as recorded in 2 Kings 21:
[2Ki 21:16 KJV] 16 Moreover Manasseh shed innocent blood very much, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another; beside his sin wherewith he made Judah to sin, in doing [that which was] evil in the sight of the LORD.
Under Manasseh’s reign Isaiah was martyred by being sawn in two after serving under 5 kings of the southern kingdom. It is important to get a historical reference to Isaiah to help us understand the backdrop of his prophesies. The book of Isaiah covers much of the time frame of his life and some of it even believed to be contributed by an unknown author long after Isaiah’s death.
The book of Isaiah begins with Isaiah prophesying at a relatively young age against the disobedience of the people under the relative prosperity and ease of king Uzziah. Uzziah’s death is imminent and his son Jotham is ruling by proxy. Uzziah was a good king but was jealous of the authority of the priest’s and attempted to incorporate the priestly office into that of his own rule. As go the leaders of a nation so will the people. In verse 4 Isaiah describes them as a sinful nation laden with sins who had forsaken the Lord and gone away backward. 1 Sam. 8:6-8 declares that in seeking a king in the first place the nation was forsaking and rejecting the rule of God. The kings or rulers of a nation have a profound effect on the spiritual complexion of the people under their rule. 2 Peter 2:19 declares that of whom you are overcome of the same are you brought into bondage. One of the greatest mercies that God brought over our country was to disallow Mitt Romney as president of the United States. Being a devout Mormon, had he sat in the White House there would have been a principality of false religion unleashed across this land without precedent. President Obama was exceedingly far from perfect nonetheless was a small mercy in the place of the spiritual impact of the alternative at that time. Uzziah was a presumptious king and suffered horribly for it but the die was cast and the people are deeply idolatrous and Isaiah speaks against this by the word of the Lord.
11 To what purpose [is] the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. 12 When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? 13 Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; [it is] iniquity, even the solemn meeting. 14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear [them]. 15 And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. 16 Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; 17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. 18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. 19 If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: 20 But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken [it].
In verse 9-10 we see Isaiah by the word of the Lord calling the rulers and the people of Jerusalem Sodom and Gomorrah. This description is deeply abhorrent but is repeated by John the Revelator in Rev. 11:8. When the people of Jerusalem, a type of the church are righteous they are deeply righteous and when they are disobedient they are deeply corrupted and defiled. In spite of this they believed according to verse 11 that their protocols and activities of sacrifice and religious life would allay the displeasure of God. It is as though they felt that their outward deference in religious traditions, activities and ceremonies would assuage the demand of the Father that they adhere and obey his word in their personal lives. They in effect think they are buying God off with outward religious regard. Isaiah takes his life in his hands as a young member of a privileged Levitical family to call out such hypocrisy.
In verse 12 the Lord speaks through Isaiah “who has required this at your hand to tread My courts?” It echoes the prophesies of Malachi when the Lord cried out against the sins of the priests and the people beseeching that someone (Mal. 1:10) would have the integrity to just shut the doors of the temple and be done with it. I remember when pastoring my second church that the Father told me He didn’t bring me to build the church up but to shut it down. I was deeply grieved because I loved the people and I loved the work of the ministry. I found out that the church building recently erected before my arrival had been built with bribes, deceit and dishonesty in which the deacon board and the pastor at that time had openly colluded. Because of this in this very small town the church had a contaminated testimony that they were unable to get beyond in reputation among the community. Ultimately God did exactly what he said He would do and completely disbanded that group because regardless of what they thought they were accomplishing their actions had irretrievably spoiled their testimony.
21 How is the faithful city become an harlot! it was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers. 22 Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water: 23 Thy princes [are] rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them. 24 Therefore saith the Lord, the LORD of hosts, the mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies: 25 And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin: 26 And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellors as at the beginning: afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, the faithful city. 27 Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness. 28 And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners [shall be] together, and they that forsake the LORD shall be consumed. 29 For they shall be ashamed of the oaks which ye have desired, and ye shall be confounded for the gardens that ye have chosen. 30 For ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth, and as a garden that hath no water. 31 And the strong shall be as tow, and the maker of it as a spark, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench [them].
Isaiah by the word of the Lord describes Judah and Jerusalem as a city of harlots. Once it was full of judgment and righteousness lodged in it but now murderers. Perhaps even at this young age at the beginning of his life Isaiah looked down through the reign of 5 successive kings and saw his own martyrdom. How is it that Jerusalem could be seen as a harlot? During the time of Isaiah there were formidable threats from outside invasion. The kings of Judah frequently called on nations such as Syria and Egypt to act as mercenaries to strengthen their fortifications against the Babylonians and later the Assyrians. Rather than looking to God they were looking outward instrumentalities. Does this have any correlation to the church culture of which we are a part? In other references Isaiah actually names the Egyptian rulers that the kings are looking toward for help and says they are a false hope. In recent decades the church has become extremely political – looking to politics and political leaders to solve problems that once the people of God looked to Him for as the only answer. This amounts to harlotry just as Jerusalem and Israel with their false hope that they placed in the natural instrumentalities that they thought would protect them. As David said in Psalm 121:1-2 our hope comes from the Lord:
[Psa 121:1-2 KJV] I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help? 2 My help [cometh] from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.
In verse 24 the Lord constitutes Judah as become an enemy of God by her idolatries and that He will now relieve Himself of the burden of her sins. In verse 25 He declares He will purge away the sin of the nation as dross and tin is purged from silver in the fire. In verse 27 we see the Father will purge the nation with judgment and that the transgressors will be consumed. As a result (v. 29) Isaiah declares that there will come a time that the people will “be ashamed of their oaks”. These are the groves and secret grottos where in spite of open worship of Jehovah they were sacrificing to Baal, Chemosh and Ashteroth – a practice that was present and continued in Judah from the days of David to the very last king of the line of Judah. These idols represent for us the glaring contradictions between our outward worship of God and the reality of our secret lives where we allow ourselves practices and choices that are anything but godly. Because of this the final verses tell us we are become dry as tinder and that the spark of God’s righteousness will ignite a fire of retribution for sin unrepented of.
As you can see by reading though Isaiah came from a privileged family and no doubt was pampered and lived in relative prosperity he is speaking by the spirit of God in a very direct manner at things other rulers and teachers no doubt pretended didn’t exist among the people. It is a good thing for us to read Isaiah for in it we will not only hopefully take a good hard look at ourselves but also see by contrast the deep love of God in dealing with a disobedient people in a redemptive manner.
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