Isaiah’s prophecy began with a declaration of the sinfulness of the people. God has charged them with rebellion, which is foolish rebellion because God had provided for the nation. Therefore the nation of Judah is experiencing judgment for rejecting the Lord. But in his grace, God has not allowed the nation to completely consumed like Sodom and Gomorrah. Survivors remain because God’s grace continues to shine in the face of rejection and sin.
The Lord’s Displeasure (1:10-11)
The declaration begins with a serious insult to the nation, calling them spiritually Sodom and Gomorrah. The rulers and the people have a Sodom-like offensiveness to the Lord. In verse 11 the Lord describes his displeasure with these people. God does not call them “his sacrifices” but “your sacrifices.” God says these sacrifices are not for me but for yourselves. Listen to the threefold decrying of these sacrifices: “What are the multitude of these sacrifices to me?” — “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams” — “I do not delight in the blood of bulls.” These sacrifices mean nothing to God, add nothing to God, and do nothing for God. We must be amazed by this because God commanded these sacrifices. Page after page through the book of Leviticus we read the commands for the sacrifices that God required. Consider what God is saying: you are giving the sacrifices I’ve commanded and I do not want them and have had enough of them. I have no joy in these sacrifices you are bringing. The Lord is about to explain why he has had enough of their sacrifices and has no delight in them. But we before we explore those verses we need to consider that there is worship that God does not accept. There is worship that God does not delight in, does not want, and will not accept.
What The Lord Has Not Asked (1:12-15)
All of their coming to worship with their animals is nothing more than the noise of shuffling feet and clacking of hooves on the pavement. There is plenty of religious activity, but God is not pleased with what is happening. All of this activity is just an incessant noise to the Lord. This is not what God wants. Therefore, do not bring any more of your vain offerings. The incense is an abomination. The Lord cannot endure iniquity and solemn assemblies. Isaiah now explains to us the problem. The people are coming to God in worship while their lives are happily continuing in sinful living. Their unconfessed, unrepentant sins make their worship intolerable to God. God is offended by hollow worship. We often do not think that God hates our worship when we are not in repentance to him. Listen to verse 14: “Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates.” The equivalent statement in our time would be, “I hate with all my heart.” God cannot stand their worship. He hates it with all of his heart. All that God sees is their blood stained hands. God cannot stand our worship when we are full of unrepentant sin. Further, notice that God declares that our prayers are blocked and we are out of relationship with God when we have unrepentant sins. The Lord declares the withdrawal of divine favor. Their prayers are ineffective because their prayers are not matched with godly lives. Even though we make many prayers God says he will not listen because our unrepentant sins block our relationship with God.
What The Lord Requires (1:16-17)
First, wash to make yourselves clean. There is cleansing of the heart that needs to occur. God is calling us to repent in obvious ways. Clean up your lives. Stop thinking that you can continue to practice your sins and still remain in God’s favor. God does not want our worship if it does not come from repentant hearts. Further, God calls for the people to “remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes.” The literal rendering is important here because Isaiah is not simply saying to remove your evil deeds. He is calling us to remove the evil of our deeds. The acts may already be done, but the evil remains. Repentance is not simply the removing of evil deeds. Repentance means that after the deeds are past we go back and clean up the residual evil and damage that we caused. True repentance tries to make things right again. This is why Zacchaeus is held up to us as an example of repentance that leads to salvation in Luke 19. He did not just stop the evil acts. He cleaned up the evil of his deeds. He decides from the heart to repay fourfold anyone who he has defrauded. That is the cleaning up the evil of our deeds that God is looking for. God wants to see hearts that try to clean the evil we have done. Our worship becomes beautiful to God when we work to set right the evil we have done. This is exactly what Jesus taught in the teaching we call The Sermon On The Mount.
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23–24 ESV) God wants repentance driven worship. God wants our hearts to desire clean hearts and clean hands.
Second, God wants us to abandon the old life. The Lord instructs the people to stop what they doing. Stop the old lifestyle because God will not accept us if we continue in the old life. Third, we must develop a new mind. “Learn to do good” (1:16). God’s people need to adopt a new way of thinking, not conforming their minds to the pattern of this world (cf. Romans 12:2). Fourth, we must set new objectives for our lives and have a complete change of priorities. “Seek justice” (1:17). Jesus commands us to seek first the kingdom of God (cf. Luke 12:31). God’s people must change their pursuit from worldly things to godly things. Fifth, God specifies what needs to be put back to right. They need to correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless, and plead the widow’s cause. Right the wrongs and do what God has called you to do!
The Lord’s Invitation (1:18-20)
As always, God is ready to meet us with grace and mercy. Listen to his beautiful invitation:
“Come now, 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 become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18 ESV)
This is not an aggressive call to a legal matter. This is a compassionate call. Let us resolve our differences. Let us settle the matter. There is hope. But the hope is found in God’s way, not in our ways. Your sins which are like blood stained scarlet can be made as white as snow. You can be made pure. You can be made clean. If you will present your blood-red hands to God in confession and repentance, he will wash you clean and your worship will be acceptable again.
Further, notice the choices that lay before us. If we will be willing and obedient, we will receive life and blessings. But if we refuse and rebel, then we will receive death and judgment. God is very clear about what is going on here. The only thing that keeps us from renewal with God and cleansing of sins is our own stubbornness. The path is not difficult to understand. God has not hidden the means for cleansing. God’s appeal is not unreasonable. God is asking us to be open and responsive to him. Stop the old life (cease), develop a new mind (learn), and set new objectives and priorities (seek). This is what makes worship acceptable to God. Our worship is unacceptable when it does not come from the overflow of repentance. Our hope is found in God’s way.