The Overview of the Chapter: The first part of the book of Isaiah concerns the conditions of evil and condemnation for evil upon Israel.
The Outline (Main points) of the Chapter:
The book of Isaiah begins with an appropriate introductory verse about the author.
"The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz" (Isaiah 1:1). Very quickly, the book identified the author. Critics are not so sure, for they can have the evidence right before their face and miss it. The last part of Isaiah is confirmed in the New Testament as being Isaiah (Luke 4:17, 18; cp. Isaiah 61:1, 2). "Amoz" is not the same as "Amos" the prophet. Isaiah had ready access to royalty so evidently came from a family of some distinction.
"Concerning Judah and Jerusalem" (Isaiah 1:1). Isaiah's message focused mostly on the nation of Judah of which Jerusalem was the capital and residence of Isaiah. Other nations are mentioned at times because they were related in some way to the nation of Judah.
"In the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah" (Isaiah 1:1). This lengthy ministry, which covered four prominent kings of Judah, made him also a contemporary of such Northern Kingdom prophets as Amos and Micah. He ministered about 700 to 750 years before Christ.
Judgment is the theme of this first message in Isaiah. It is judgment upon the nation of Judah. Many principles in Judah's judgment will reveal why our nation is also being judged.
Here is a list of reasons why Judah is under Divine retribution, why Judah is suffering so many adversities.
• Privileges despised. "I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me" (Isaiah 1:2). In spite of the fact that God blessed Judah much, they rejected their privileges and rebelled against God.
• Prudence lacking. "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib; but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider" (Isaiah 1:3). The Israelites were dumber than animals when it came to cause and effect. Our land is the same way today. That is the product of sin which promotes judgment.
• Pollution abounded. "Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity" (Isaiah 1:4). Sin abounded on every hand.
• Parting from Jehovah. "Forsaken the Lord" (Isaiah 1:4). The Israelites departed from God which is always going to bring judgment.
• Provocation of profaneness. "They have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger" (Isaiah 1:4). You can make anyone angry with less problems than when you make God angry.
• Path of evil. "Gone away backward" (Isaiah 1:4). Two things can be said about the path. First, the departure in the path. "Gone away." We noted earlier that they had parted from God. Here the emphasis is on departing from God's ways. Men think they are so smart that their path is better than God's path, so they drink, gamble, live immorally, and are perverse. It is the wrong path and "gone away" is the character of the path. Second, the direction of the path. "Backward." Departing from God's path is more than deviating a few degrees off the right course; it is reversing and going the opposite direction.
• Persistency in evil. "Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more" (Isaiah 1:5). Israel was so obstinate in their attitude that further rebuking in judgment would not help them correct their lives.
Isaiah gives a summary of the retribution of God upon Israel. It is devastating and destructive. Details of the retribution will come later on in the last third of this chapter.
• Completeness of judgment. "From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores" (Isaiah 1:6). Judgment has affected Israel in every part of its land.
• Consuming in judgment. "Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire; your land, strangers devour it in your presence... overthrown by strangers... Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard" (Isaiah 1:7, 8). The land is consumed in judgment—burned and destroyed till hardly anything is left.
• Compassion in judgment. "Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom and... Gomorrah" (Isaiah 1:9). Sodom and Gomorrah were completely destroyed. Israel, but for the graciousness of God, would have experienced the same in judgment.
Divine retribution brought adversities to the spiritual life of the people.
• People rejected. The people, including their rulers, are rejected by God. First, the requirement for the rejected. "Hear... give ear unto the law of our God" (Isaiah 1:10). Second, the rebuke in the rejection. "Sodom... Gomorrah" (Isaiah 1:10). Israel was compared to these two very wicked cities.
• Piety rejected. "To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices... who hath required this at you hand... Bring no more vain oblations... unto me... Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth" (Isaiah 1:11-14). Their worship is rejected.
• Prayers rejected. "When ye spread forth your hands... I will not hear" (Isaiah 1:15). Their sin would stop the ears of God to their prayers.
God admonishes the people to turn back to Him. This involves a fourfold message to the people which is summed up in the last two verses of this paragraph. They return to the Lord or they will suffer unhappy consequences.
"Wash you, make you clean" (Isaiah 1:16). This first admonition was one for cleansing. Their evil had defiled them and they needed cleansing. Today we are so particular about germs that we ignore the peril of guile which is far worse.
"Put away the evil of your doings... Learn to do well; seek judgment [justice]" (Isaiah 1:16, 17). This involves repentance. Repentance will make changes. It will forsake evil and pursue good.
"Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow" (Isaiah 1:18). This text is such a great Gospel message that we look at it primarily from that standpoint.
• The communication of the gospel. "Come now" (Isaiah 1:18). The communication is threefold. First, the communication was universal. "Come." There are no requirements that would exclude anyone. Second, the communication was undeserving. "Come." God could have said "Go," for sin made us undeserving of "Come." It is an invitation of grace. Third, the communication was urgent. "Now." Do not delay getting right with God. Delay can bring damnation. "Now is the accepted time... now is the day of salvation" (II Corinthians 6:2).
• The character of the gospel. "Reason" (Isaiah 1:18). The word "reason" here means to prove something, "to demonstrate what is right and true" (Wilson). The Gospel wants to be investigated to prove its high character. The world calls it foolishness, but nothing it more logical, sensible, just, gracious, and wise.
• The condemnation of the gospel. "Together" (Isaiah 1:18). This word reminds us that sin separates from God. We need to be with God, not away from God. The Gospel unites.
• The cleansing of the gospel. "Though your sins be as scarlet" (Isaiah 1:18). The good news of the Gospel is that Christ's blood can cleanse us from the vilest of sins.
The people of Judah had two choices, the same as we do today. How we choose determines the consequences.
• The choice of obedience. "Willing and obedient... eat the good of the land" (Isaiah 1:19). If the people willingly obeyed God, they would be blessed in the land.
• The choice of obstinacy. "Refuse and rebel... devoured" (Isaiah 1:20). If the people rebelled against God, they would be condemned in the land.
Some of the details of the judgment of God upon Judah are noted here. This description was all prophetic, for it did not come till some time after Isaiah had passed away. Obviously the people paid no attention to the prophecy, just as today few people listen to the warnings of God about the consequences of wicked living.
Before giving the particulars of the judgment, the message notes why judgment came to Judah.
• The changes. "Faithful... harlot... righteousness... but now murderers... silver... dross... wine... water" (Isaiah 1:21, 22). What used to be faithful is now unfaithful (harlotry is a symbol of unfaithfulness); what use to be righteous is now unrighteous ("murderers" speaks of unrighteous conduct). Sin changes conduct from good ("silver") to bad ("dross").
• The corruption. "Rebellious... thieves... gifts" (Isaiah 1:23). Rejection of God's ways, injustice, insulting of righteousness, greed ("thieves" and "gifts" [bribes]) is the corruption cited here of the land.
The prediction of judgment comes from the message of Isaiah. This prediction, as we noted earlier, was many years before the judgment actually came. God warns in ample time.
• The source of the prediction. "Therefore saith the Lord" (Isaiah 1:24). God Himself makes the prediction. Isaiah is simply speaking the words that God spoke to him.
• The shifting in the prediction. "I will ease me of mine adversaries" (Isaiah 1:24). The word "ease" is often translated "repenteth." When used with God, it means God has shifted His attitude towards someone. God would change His position towards Judah because they changed their position towards God. God is immutable and does not change. The change here was that of Judah's conduct which has caused God to shift His actions towards Judah.
• The severity of the prediction. "Avenge me of mine enemies" (Isaiah 1:24). "Avenge" is severe language. When God avenges Himself, look out! Judgment will be severe.
The judgment upon Israel was remedial not final. It had noble purposes.
• Refining purpose. "I will... purge away thy dross" (Isaiah 1:25). Judgment was to clean up Israel of their sin; like a refining pot, it would take the dross out of the gold, the impurities out of the metal.
• Restoring purpose. "I will restore... Zion shall be redeemed with judgment" (Isaiah 1:26, 27). Divine judgment had the purpose of restoring Israel to the land in a holy state. It was to change Israel from a godless, idolatrous nation to a nation whose loyalties were for Jehovah-God.
Some of the particulars of the judgment are given here at the conclusion of this chapter.
• The destruction. "The destruction of the transgressors... burn... none shall quench them" (Isaiah 1:28, 31). We noted in the summary of the judgment given in the first part of this chapter that the judgment would be destructive and would burn up the cities. Nebuchadnezzar particularly burned the city of Jerusalem when he attacked the nation of Judah.
• The disgrace. "They shall be ashamed... confounded" (Isaiah 1:29). Perhaps worse than the destruction of the buildings and walls and cities was the shame and disgrace that would come to the Israelites from this judgment. Divine judgment shames the ones that are judged.
• The despoiling. "Ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth... garden that hath no water" (Isaiah 1:30). This speaks of the great despoiling of the land that took place in the judgment. Nebuchadnezzar especially despoiled the Temple by taking away many of the items of the Temple. Part of an armies' pay was in the spoils of victory—the valuables they would get from the conquered people.
• The debilitation. "The strong shall be as tow" (Isaiah 1:31). Judah would be greatly weakened by the judgment. The nation, that was and will be the head of the nations of the world, would become very weak ("tow" is a weak string compared to a strong rope). Weakness came to the Israelites so they were easy to conquer. Sin always weakens nations and makes them very vulnerable to being conquered by others.