Our text is from Isaiah, Chapter 1, verses 18 through 20. Isaiah, the prophet, was sent to his people at a very difficult time. His task was not enviable because their rebellion against GOD was great. As we survey the indictment of the LORD against His people, we realize that nothing has changed. The heart and the sin of mankind are identical with those of ancient times. What had Israel done that merited such severe language? For a start, they had deserted GOD. Verse 4:
Alas, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity; a brood of evil doers; children who are corruptors. They have forsaken the LORD; they have provoked to anger the Holy One of Israel. They have turned away backward.
This was particularly true of the king called Ahas, in verse 1, who closed up the Temple and worshipped other gods. Nor was he alone in this. We read that other people followed suit.
Secondly, the more GOD sought to reclaim them by bringing the consequences of their sins upon them, the more defiant and rebellious they became. Verse 5:
Why should you be stricken again? You will revolt more and more. The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.Their condition was compared to that of a leper, whose whole body is ulcerated and rotting away; and for whom no medical treatment is offered or accepted. What would we think of a person who was desperately sick, who did the same? Would we not say that they were out of their right minds?
But thirdly, their country was devastated by their enemies. In better times, the enemy was afraid to touch them when they obeyed and honoured GOD’s righteous Laws. GOD saw to it that anyone who dared to hurt them, paid a heavy price. Now, however, they had spurned Him and His protection, and were experiencing war and unrest everywhere. Verse 7:
Your country is desolate. Your cities are burned with fire. Strangers devour your land in your presence; and it is desolate, as over thrown by strangers. There is a double picture in the following words that graphically portrays their plight:
They are like the shack of the watchman, composed of twigs and branches, which he used for protection from the elements as he guarded his master’s crops. When the harvest was over, these branches were left to the elements, and eventually collapsed. It was the same with the besieged city about to fall, with so few survivors, from death and disease, and destruction. It is a pitiable scene, and yet, the people remain defiant. In His mercy, GOD allowed some to survive despite their adamant refusal to reform their ways.
What added a touch of unreality to the whole situation, was the deeply religious deportment of the people. They sacrificed to GOD, as well as their idols, trying to pay honour to both at the same time. No wonder then, that He says in verse 12:
When you come to appear before Me, who has required this from your hand to trample My courts? Bring no more futile sacrifices. Included in the worship of idols, was the terrible sacrifice of their children to false gods. In order to maintain a good relationship with these false gods, and to ensure their continued prosperity, the heathen used to offer up to their idols what was dearest and nearest to their hearts, in the belief that this was absolutely necessary. They burned their children to death on their altars of sacrifice. And now GOD’s own people too, were doing this abominable thing, of which GOD speaks in Jeremiah, Chapter 7, verse 13:
And they have built the high places of Tafat, which is in the valley of the son of Hinom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into My heart.
We have an identical situation today in this world, where parents murder their little ones, born and unborn, because they are viewed as a threat to their lifestyle. GOD’s response to all this sin is found in Isaiah 1, verse 16:
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean. Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. He sees it all, and passes sentence upon it. It is all evil, and nothing but evil.
For all that, the case is not hopeless as we might have imagined. In His grace and His mercy, GOD offered, and still offers, a reprieve. The one indispensable condition is ‘t’shuvah’, repentance, which also means ‘returning to GOD’. Note that is GOD Who makes the first move. We are so rebellious by nature, that if He had not taken the initiative, we would never have proposed terms of peace ourselves. In His great kindness, GOD speaks in verse 18:
‘Come now, and let us reason together,’says the LORD, ‘though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.’
How can a Holy GOD Who cannot look upon iniquity, ever reconcile this offer with His justice? Something, quite wrongly, that He does so by overlooking the claims of His justice against us. It is a sentimental notion, altogether unworthy of GOD, and altogether inconsistent with what He says of Himself in Chapter 45, verse 21:
There is no God besides Me, a just GOD, and a Saviour. There is None besides Me. In other words, GOD is just and merciful, a Judge and a Saviour, at the same time. The answer to this riddle is found everywhere in the Torah. When anyone fell into sin, they could bring an innocent sacrifice to the alter in the Temple, that died instead of them, and whose blood was sprinkled on the altar. In this way, and ONLY this way, GOD’s perfect justice was satisfied and the sinner found mercy and forgiveness.
Listen to what GOD says in the Torah in Leviticus, Chapter 17, verse 11:
For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls. For it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul. An innocent animal had to surrender it’s life for ours. But someone might ask, quite rightly, What provision is there for sin today? To which the prophet Isaiah replies in Chapter 53, verse 8:
He was cut off from the land of the living for the transgressions of My people; He was stricken. Who is this person of whom the prophet speaks? It is our Messiah, the Holy One, and the Redeemer of Israel, Who took our guilt and condemnation upon Himself, and died instead of us! Isaiah 53, verse 6:
All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned, everyone, to his own way. And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
My dear listener, this One is no other than YESHUA of Nazareth. He and He alone, came to be our substitute. Through Him alone do we obtain the forgiveness and the cleansing we need. Let us pray: Avinu She’ba Shamayim, we pray that we may all see, in YESHUA, the atonement that we need. Amen.