God's Case Against Israel

1: 2-4

    DIG: Chapters 1 through 5 contain sermons that Isaiah preached to the people. Though not arranged chronologically, they introduce major themes to be developed throughout the book. What is the purpose of God calling the heavens and earth to witness His complaint against His covenant people? What is His case against them?

    REFLECT: Spiritual idolatry was one of the most serious sins that Isaiah addressed. What gods today compete most for your allegiance? What are some signs that these gods have succeeded in drawing you away from the LORD? What can you do about it?

    As in a courtroom, the LORD calls His people to the bar of His justice where, of course, they can only be found guilty, saying: Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth (1:2a)! The heavens and the earth are called in to be witnesses against Israel because both were present when the covenant was made between God and His people in the book of Deuteronomy. The relationship between Deuteronomy and the other books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers) is that in Deuteronomy Moses begins to repeat, sometimes word for word, many of the laws already found in the other three. For that reason Deuteronomy means second law or repetitious law. But the reason Moses is repeating is not to be redundant, but to take the commandments in the other three books and put them in covenant book form. And a covenant needs witnesses. Essentially, Deuteronomy says that if Israel will keep the commandments in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, they will receive material blessings. If they disobey these commandments God will eventually drive them out of the Land. This was the basis for the covenant (Deuteronomy 4:26,36; 30:19; 31:28; 32:1).

    The genesis of every national problem is how the people relate to God. They cannot be right anywhere if they are wrong there. Consequently, Isaiah spells out the problem, which is Israel’s rebellion. For ADONAI has spoken: I have reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against Me (1:2b). The Hebrew word reared as in I reared children (the KJV is translated sons), means more than the English implies. It means to be given a position of dominance. Because of the covenant relationship with God they are called the Sons of God. No individual in the Old Covenant is ever called a son of God singularly. Jews are only called sons of God collectively. The basis for that is Exodus 4:22-23. Deuteronomy 14:1 and 32:20 also brings out this sons of God motif. Israel’s infancy was in the Land of Canaan during the time of the patriarchs and their childhood was in Egypt. Their stages of youth were lived out in the desert of Sinai, reaching manhood under Joshua and Judges, and then becoming great and dominant under David and Solomon. The Hebrew word for brought them up is a word that means to be great. He did not simply raise them to be grown up; He put them in a position where they were made great. They were given a position of dominance and made great by the LORD. But in spite of the unique position they had, they rebelled against ADONAI. The word rebelled means to break away with violence. This was not a passive rebellion; sometimes they actively went against God with full knowledge of what they were doing. So although God gave them every possible advantage, they nonetheless violently opposed Him and went against the covenant He made with them.

    God then contrasts Israel’s ignorance with that of animals. The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manager, but Israel does not know, My people do not understand (Isaiah 1:3). The ox and the donkey were known for their stupidity. In Proverbs 7:22 an ox is identified with human fools, and in Proverbs 26:3 the same thing is said of the donkey. Yet even these animals know who their provider is. They recognize the master from whom they receive their nourishment. But as for Israel, they did not know! To make matters worse, they did not even think about it. They did not consider it, meaning they were more stupid than dumb animals. When people are spiritually blind, they are dumber than dumb animals.

    Then, as evidence, the LORD lists seven counts of indictment against Israel. This verse is a powerful piece of poetry that describes Israel’s condition in terse, hard-hitting terms: Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption (Isaiah 1:4a)! Altogether they describe the sinfulness of the nation. The first indictment was that they were a sinful nation. Instead of being a holy nation (Exodus 19:6), which was their calling, they had become a sinful nation. The second indictment was that they were a people loaded with guilt. Israel’s guilt is the heavier because (the nation) Jacob was chosen to reveal God’s revelation. The word guilt emphasizes crookedness and perverseness. The third indictment was that they were a brood (seed in the King James) of evildoers. Rather than being a true seed of Abraham, they had become a seed of evildoers. The fourth indictment was that they were children given over to corruption rather than being children of God. The effect was like a series of karate chops – short, sudden and devastating.

    They demonstrated the opposite of what the people of God should be all about. The descendents should be better than their parents, but they were worse. The children should be a source of life, but these were a source of death. Consequently, as a people, Israel had lost her way. What happened?

    The fifth indictment was that they were guilty of apostasy of the heart. They had forsaken ADONAI (1:4b). The sixth indictment was that they had spurned the Holy One of Israel (1:4c). They were guilty of apostasy in the words of their mouths. In this indictment, Isaiah uses one of his favorite terms, the Holy One of Israel. This expression is used a total of 31 times in the TANAKH, or Old Covenant, and 26 of those are used by Isaiah. And the seventh indictment was that they turned their backs on ADONAI (1:4d). This is not a very pretty picture. The language used here is very similar to that of Deuteronomy 28:20, 29:25-26, and 31:16, when it speaks of spiritual adultery. I’m sure Israel didn’t realize how far they had strayed from God. This is a valuable lesson for us today. If anything gets between you and the LORD, He wants it out of the way.

    Who was in control? God or Israel? This was their dilemma and it is our dilemma. When we, like Israel, try to control our own life it implies a denial of God. But yielding control is so frightening. Typically, Israel tired to keep both God and the gods, with miserable results. We are no different. For the most part they did not consciously abandon Him, but their attempt to keep both amounted to abandonment and was, in the eyes of the prophets, rebellion. Whose hands are on the steering wheel of your life?

 

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