You Have Made Your Bed on Every Hill,

There You Went Up to Offer Sacrifices

57: 3-13

   DIG: How is the people’s idolatry like adultery? What is Isaiah’s point in using that image? Why has this happened? What is meant by the prophet’s harsh words in 57:9? What is syncretism? From these verses, why do you think the LORD permits divorce on the grounds of adultery? How will the fate of the idolaters contrast with the future of those who have taken refuge in God? How does this section show us that ADONAI is a promise keeper?

   REFLECT: How are people today still burning with lust and sacrificing their children? How are they sending ambassadors far away? Why are they not worn out with their idolatry? What forms does idolatry take today? Has something ever taken the place of the LORD in your life? TV? Sports? Family? Spouse? Children? Job? Which have failed to help you when you really needed help? In reality, how do these very things end up separating us from the help ADONAI gives? How would you explain to someone what it means to take refuge in God? What pressures are driving you to take shelter in Christ right now?

    In this near historical prophecy Isaiah condemns Jewish citizens living about one hundred years later during the ministry of Jeremiah. This is a scathing denunciation of the men who indulged in idolatrous rites and pagan practices. Here, Isaiah expands on the self-righteousness of the nation that considers itself to be the elect of the LORD, a nation that sees righteousness as a matter of political correctness in their religious practices. In 57:3-10 through His prophet, ADONAI exposes the practice of idolatry. Finally, in 57:11-13, God addresses the foolishness of idolatry.

    In contrast with the righteous, the vast majority of the nation was involved in idolatry. Because they had begun worshiping other gods, they were guilty of spiritual adultery. The concept of Isra'el being the wife of the LORD is rooted in the Book of Deuteronomy, which is written in the form of an ancient marriage contract (see Je – The Restoration of the Wife of the LORD).

    But you – come here, you sons of a sorceress, you offspring of adulterers and prostitutes (57:3). And as His wife, Israel was involved in religious prostitution (Hosea 4:14). In fertility religions “worshipers” engaged in sexual relations with prostitutes, supposedly identifying in that way with the gods and goddesses to help guarantee fertility in their crops, animals, and families.

    Whom are you mocking? At whom do you sneer and stick out your tongue? They participated in a rising tide of rejection against ADONAI and His followers; starting with poking fun, leading to scornful sneers, which ended up in vulgar rejection. Are you not a brood of rebels, the offspring of liars (57:4). Such people in Israel were mocking the righteous while they were up to their eyebrows in sin. By such actions they rebelled against God.234 This was no accident. It was willful departure from the truth to the lie. Timothy said it this way: For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths (Second Timothy 4:3-4).

    Isaiah now proceeds to describe two aspects of Canaanite religion that never ceased to horrify the prophets: fertility worship and child sacrifice. First, fertility worship, with its symbolic lush spreading tree and its sexual ritual, supposedly prompted the god to fertilize their land, their animals and their family (First Kings 14:23; Second Kings 16:4, 17:10; Isaiah 1:29; Jeremiah 2:20, 3:6 and 13; Ezekiel 6:13, 20:28-29; Hosea 4:12-13). Their physical union with the prostitute, rather than a spiritual relationship with the Creator, became the key to their imaginary power.

    You burn with lust among the oaks and under every spreading tree (57:5a). In addition, worship centers were set up on high places so that the idolaters could imagine themselves even closer to their gods. Often these high places were in lush forest areas to picture the fertility being sought by the idolaters. Their spiritual adultery was so great that ADONAI said: You burn with lust, and would accuse them of making their bed on every high and lofty hill. They even sacrificed their children to the tree gods among the oaks (see the worship of Molech below). Idol temples and altars were built, surrounded by thick groves and trees. There, under every spreading tree, offering sacrifices in gardens (65:3), excesses of the worst kind were committed. Therefore, God had to forbid the planting of trees near His altars, lest His people should become, or seem to be, like unbelievers.235

    The second aspect of Canaanite worship was child sacrifice. You sacrifice your children in the ravines and under the overhanging crags (57:5b). ADONAI had told Moses to say: Any Israelite or any alien living in Israel who gives any of his children to Molech must be put to death. The people of the community are to stone him (Leviticus 20:2, also see Leviticus 18:21, 20:3-5; Jeremiah 49:1-3). Molech worship consisted of the ritualized sacrifice, or “passing through the fire” of the first-born infant son of every Ammonite family. Building a fire in the belly of the beast, getting it good and stoked, so that the flames poured out of the mouth, the high priest mounted a scaffold and tossed the first born male child into an opening in Molech's chest or placed him in the statue’s outstretched arms (Jeremiah 7:31, 32:35). If a couple sacrificed their first-born son, they believed that Molech would ensure financial prosperity for the family and future children. In contrast to that, the Torah taught that the firstborn of Israel belonged to the LORD (see my commentary on Exodus Cd – Consecrate To Me Every Firstborn Male), but those idol worshipers gave their firstborn male to Molech instead! They treated their infant sons like cattle.

    They even worshiped the smooth stones from the stream that once slew a giant (First Samuel 17:40). The idols among the smooth stones of the ravines are your portion (57:6a). And as if worshiping the tree gods wasn’t sufficient, they also worshiped the stone gods and expected God to look the other way. One of the rites of idol worshipers was the worship of stone pillars, water-worn and smoothed by the winter floods, upon which was poured or smeared the blood or oil of sacrificial offerings to the deity the stones represented. The worship of stone is referred to in Deuteronomy 7:5, 12:3 and in many passages where the word images is used. It is also very probable that the allusion to their rock in Deuteronomy 32:31 and 37 is a reference to the same practice of idolatry. The image of the goddess Artemis, which fell down from heaven and was worshiped by the Ephesians, may be another example (Acts 19:27 and 35). The practice was to anoint the stones, which were worshiped, and then to present offerings to them. The worthless stones are contrasted with the greatness of God. ADONAI said to the Israelites, if you reject Me, then all you will get are some useless stones. They, they are your reward instead of a relationship with Me (57:6c).

    Then the LORD then asked rhetorically: Yes, to the idols of stone you have poured out drink offerings and offered grain offerings. In the light of these things, should I relent (57:6b)? The answer expected is that no appeasement is possible. Such revolting worship demands not pacification but punishment. From the depths of the ravines to the height of the lofty hills, the practice of spiritual adultery filled the whole Land. Returning to the imagery of prostitution, He said: You have made your bed on a high and lofty hill; there you went up to offer your sacrifices (57:7). They worshiped everything except the true and living God.

    All of this resulted in spiritual adultery. Behind your doors and your doorposts you have put your pagan symbols. Forsaking Me, you uncovered your bed, you climbed into it and opened it wide; you made a pact with those whose beds you love, and you looked on their nakedness (57:8). Money aside, her heart was given to another. In Deuteronomy 6:9 Moses said that the commandments of the LORD were to be written on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. But now we see that they had put pagan symbols of other gods behind their doors and doorposts. They had forsaken God, and Isaiah uses the allusion of them climbing into bed and making a pact with those who they love to worship. It is no wonder that Jesus says: I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another women commits adultery (Matthew 19:9). ADONAI knows how much Israel’s actions hurt Him. He loved her so much, yet she kept committing spiritual adultery. Death by slow incremental steps. God finally gave Israel her certificate of divorce in Jeremiah 3:8, saying: I gave Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. God does not ask more of us than He does of Himself.

    The metaphor of prostitution is expanded. You went to Molech, an Ammonite god, with olive oil and perfumes to attract her foreign lover. You sent ambassadors far away (57:9a). Judah had flirted with foreign powers to gain military alliances (Ezekiel 23). But those political alliances always involved relations with foreign gods. Therefore, signing covenants with pagan nations was like signing her own death warrant. Figuratively, it was like she descended to the grave, or Sheol, itself (57:9b)! When she was committing spiritual adultery with foreign gods, it was like she was killing herself. You can’t swim in the toilet, and come up smelling like a rose!

    The constant quest for new gods with which to prostitute herself was exhausting. You were wearied by all your ways, but you would not say, “It is hopeless, I need to return to the LORD.” You found renewal of your strength, and so you did not faint in your pursuit of other lovers (57:10-11). We see that while the Israelites liked to worship many gods in general (Ezekiel 8), they like to worship one god in particular, Molech the god of the Ammonites. As mentioned above, the worship of Molech required human sacrifice, specifically first-born baby boys. So the children of sacrifice were slaughtered. Even though the worshipers of Molech were very tired, they always found a second wind to continue their worship of him. So while they were committing spiritual adultery they never even thought about the One true God, who alone gave them life and strength.

    Finally, ADONAI calls the people to account. He starts out by asking them what could possibly have motivated them to be untrue to Him. Whom have you so dreaded and feared that you have been false to Me, and have neither remembered Me, nor pondered this in your hearts? Is it not because I have long been silent that you do not fear Me (57:11)? The Bible teaches that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10). However, Israel had feared wood and stone, but not the true God. And yet those gods of wood and stone had kept silent. But Israel’s God, whom they had ignored, continually spoke the truth. His apparent indifference to their way of life had ended. He was proceeding to pronounce judgment and would expose Israel’s lack of righteousness and works of adultery. Those who trusted in, or had faith in those little gods of wood and stone were left with nothing but the wind. There was nothing to stop them from chasing after their evil desires, since no fear of the LORD stood in their way. In short, they were fools.

    So what would God do? He declared: I will expose your righteousness and your works, and they will not benefit you (57:12). Their alleged righteous works, when exposed, would be shown for what they really were, and as a result their counterfeit deeds would be of no help to them when they face Messiah in judgment (see my commentary on Revelation Fo – The Great White Throne Judgment). The books will be opened and all their counterfeit righteousness will be exposed. God said sarcastically: When you cry out for help, let your collection of idols save you! The wind will carry them off (57:13a). They fooled themselves into believing that all their rituals and spells, their sexual escapades and child sacrifices were pleasing to the LORD. It is the same today. The out-and-out denial of ADONAI is rarely the problem. Most people say they believe in “the man upstairs.” The problem is the prostitution of it. People rub shoulders with syncretism so much that in the end their supposed “faith” was worthless. They might have called it righteousness, but it was really abomination (66:3). There was so little spiritual substance to those Israelites living in Jerusalem during the days of Jeremiah that a mere breath blew them away (57:13b). They were spiritual shells with nothing inside.

    But whoever takes refuge in Me will inherit the Land and possess My holy mountain (57:13c). In contrast to those who worshiped wood and stone were those who took refuge in the true God of Israel. Those who took refuge in Him will inherit the Promised Land, and possess God’s holy mountain (11:9). This is a hint of something that is spelled out in other prophets. The righteous of the TANAKH will be resurrected after the Second Coming (see Fg – You Who Dwell in the Dust Will Wake Up and Shout for Joy), for the purpose of inheriting and possessing all of the Promised Land. ADONAI said to Abraham: To your descendants I give this Land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates – the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephates, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites (Genesis 15:18-19). He repeated this promise to Isaac and Jacob. Yet when all three died, the most they possessed of the Promised Land was a buried cave and several wells. So how would God fulfill His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?

    The only way He could fulfill His promises to them is to resurrect them from the dead and bring them to the Promised Land, where they will posses all of it. In addition, the prophets also clearly make the point that the righteous of the TANAKH will also possess the Promised Land someday: For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the Land (Psalm 37:9).

 

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