Your Rulers are Rebels

1: 21-23

    DIG: How had Jerusalem abandoned God? What was the evidence? How do you think the leaders of Jerusalem felt when they heard Isaiah's message? How did God felt about it?

    REFLECT: In what ways is spiritual adultery alive and well today? When was the last time you were tempted to abandon your love for the LORD and live in the world? What is your defense?

    Isaiah then turned to the present condition of Judah and what God’s response would be. He seems to be saying, “Yes, in theory, Israel could know forgiveness and healing (1:18-20); however, her condition is so far gone that destruction cannot be prevented.” But, as throughout the book, ADONAI’s final purpose is not for the nation’s destruction, but blessing as a result of purification.

    The contrast, between the original condition of Jerusalem under King David and the early years of Solomon’s reign with the condition of the people in Isaiah’s day, is detailed. This was a lament on the moral decay of Jerusalem. See how the faithful city of Jerusalem has become a harlot and representative of the nation as a whole! Only here and in 23:15-18 does Isaiah use the metaphor of sexual infidelity. The downfall of the nation started when they failed to act as a faithful wife. In the past she was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her. At one time Jerusalem was considered faithful, like a devoted wife. But now, instead of righteous living, she condoned murderers, or people who took advantage of the needy (1:21). Consequently, the City had become a harlot or prostitute following after other gods. According to the Torah in Exodus 34:15, should Israel worship any other god than ADONAI, she would be guilty of spiritual adultery and prostitution.

    The cause of Isaiah’s dirge was not surprising. If Hebron, Lachish or Gezer became the center of rebellion, wickedness and idol worship, that would be bad. But the holy city of Jerusalem becoming a harlot revealed that the decay was not merely superficial and unfortunate, but central and catastrophic.

    Whenever corrupt leaders usurp the Divine prerogative because God has not called them to serve, the voice of authority becomes the voice of opinion, proclamation is replaced by discussion, the Word of God is replaced by the word of people, and sermons become philosophical dissertations at best, or blasphemy at worst.

    The LORD pointed out her impurity when He spoke through the prophet, saying: Your silver has become dross, your choice wine is diluted with water (1:22). Silver and wine, which used to be valuable, had become worthless: dross metal and watered down wine. Dross is the waste left in the smelting pot after the pure silver was poured out. Like waste, the nation would be thrown away. The people would be exiled if they would not repent and return to ADONAI. This theme of spiritual adultery is expanded in detail in the book of Hosea. This was Hosea’s main burden.

    Jerusalem had become the center of oppression and greed. The pure had become impure, the precious had become worthless. Her rebellious rulers were leading the people into ruin by theft and injustice to the helpless. God, through His prophet, said: Your rulers (the silver and the fine wine of Jerusalem), are rebels, companions of thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. The actions of those rulers provided a window to see everything we need to know about their society. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them (1:23). The fatherless and widows could not even get hearings because they had no money for bribing the rulers.

    The Torah says that Israel is to be called to be pursuer of peace, or shalom (Deuteronomy 20:10); however, Isaiah called them pursuers of bribes, or salmonim. The ones who were to promote order were themselves rebels. Isaiah was a master of the Hebrew language and throughout his book he plays with these words. He changes one letter or one basic vowel pattern, a dot or a dash, and it changes the whole meaning of the word, although it sounds very much like another word.

    For the first time Isaiah makes an important connection between idolatry and social justice. He will bring this issue up again (29:17-21; 46:5-13; 48:17-18; 56:9 through 57:12), and other prophets mention it repeatedly (Jeremiah 23:13-14; Ezekiel 16:47-52; Hosea 4:1-14; Amos 2:6-8 and Malachi 3:5). They were saying that social injustice is ultimately the result of a broken relationship with a loving God. Whenever the leaders of society start to believe that there are no eternal consequences to their actions, the poor and the vulnerable begin to be abused. And the more helpless people become, the more devastating their abuse. Although the rest of the ancient Near East generally protected the helpless, they lacked the spiritual understanding as the basis for their actions. The irony of Judah, was although the Torah gave them the spiritual basis for why the helpless needed to be protected, they refused to obey it.


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