The message of Isaiah begins with a declaration about who Isaiah is prophesying toward and when the prophesies were occurring. Isaiah was prophesying to Judah, the southern nation of the divided kingdom, and toward Jerusalem, the capital city of Judah. The reign of the listed kings gives us the approximate time frame of 767-686 BC. Isaiah likely began his prophetic work around 740 BC. Isaiah declares that he has received direct revelation from the Lord. This book is the recording of the things he heard and saw from the Lord.
Lost In Sin
The Lord begins by calling the heavens and earth to bear witness to the actions of the people. The Lord has spoken and has laid his charge. The people are not what they are supposed to be. The Father has reared his children. He nurtured and cared for them only to have them rebel against him. The construction speaks the audacity and pain of what the people of done. One literal translation is: “Sons I have nurtured and reared and they — they! — have rebelled against me!” (Motyer’s translation). The audacity of turning against your own father. How painful it is to have your children rebel against you, after all you have done to rear and care for them. This is unbelievable for these people to have done in the face of God’s gracious acts of adoption, election, and rearing. This is inexcusable rebellion!
God cannot understand why his people do not know him or have a relationship with him. He describes two animals known for their stubbornness and speaks about how these stubborn animals have more sense than his people. The ox knows it owner and the donkey knows where he is fed and who feeds him. But God’s people do not know their master and do not know who has been caring for them. They are more foolish than these stubborn animals. Our sins make donkeys look like geniuses. Unreasoning, stubborn beasts show more sense and appreciation than these people. We wander from false master to false master and are unmoved by God’s love.
Unbelievably, it seems that the people are unaware of their condition. They are unable to see who they are and what they have done. Verse 4 exposes the depths of their sinfulness. God declares his woe upon this sinful nation. Sadly, they had been called to be God’s holy nation (Exodus 19:6). But they are not the holy people of God. They are the sinful nation. They are weighed down by sins. They are loaded down with their wickedness. Their sins are so great that God calls them children of evildoers and corrupted children. They have forsaken the Lord, despised/spurned the Holy One of Israel, and turned their backs on him, making them utterly estranged. They are like foreigners before God rather than his children. Friends, our sins are no small thing before our God. We frequently do not see our sins with the gravity with which God sees our sins. We do not see our sins as offending the holy character of God. “What is the big deal?,” we think in our hearts. When someone approaches us about our sins, we become defensive and can’t understand what the issue is. Listen to what you have done. You have forsaken the Lord, despised the Holy One of Israel, and are no longer his child but a stranger who is cut off from him. What is the big deal about sin? Everything! Sin is everything! Sin breaks fellowship with God. Rather than walking with God, we are worn down by our sins. God takes our sins seriously because it is an offense against him. It is a separation from him. Sin is the same as children rejecting and rebellion against their parents. We are telling God that what he has done for us as our Father is insufficient and unacceptable. Therefore we will turn to the world to find our joy and declare that there is no joy in the Lord. What an awful declaration our sins make!
Look At Yourself!
If this were not enough, then God tells us to look at ourselves and see our spiritual condition. God asks why we are so stubborn that we continue to experience punishment. Why do you continue to feel the consequences of your sins and yet stubbornly maintain your sinful ways? We are so stubborn in our sinfulness! We continue in sexual immorality and wonder why our marriages are suffering. We continue to act outside the boundaries of how husbands and wives are supposed to act with God as their head and can’t figure out why we have problems. We do not raise our children as God teaches and experience the consequences from it. We do not turn our hearts completely to the Lord and wonder why worship seems dry and why spiritual disciplines seems boring. We do wrong, act wrong, think wrong, and speak wrong and wonder why everything is wrong in our lives! There is only one reason why things are not going right: sin. Sin is the cause. There is sin somewhere and that is why nothing is right.
Listen to the words in verse 6 as God describes how sick we are. We are like a bruised and wounded body that has been left untended. We are disease-ridden from the top of our heads to the bottoms of our feet. We have wounds that are untreated, unbandaged, and unsoothed with healing ointment. Can you imagine if we truly did this physically? Can you imagine walking around with large open, festering wounds without any bandages, antibiotics, or medicines to heal? Do you see the picture? People would by asking us why we are not doing something about it! You are loaded down by sins, disease-ridden, and yet you cannot see that your sins are killing you. You do not see what sin has done to you.
The consequences of sin are further described in verses 7-8. The people cannot put two and two together. They cannot see that they are experiencing devastation in their lives and as a nation because they have chosen sins rather than choosing God. Their land is left to them desolate. Their cities are burned. Foreigners are consuming their land. If they would turn back God would restore the blessings he was previously giving to them. How sad to see the depths of our rebellion. Even with judgment falling all around them, the people will not turn back to God. We need to listen carefully to what God is teaching: rebellion has consequences. We will pay for our sins. Our lives will collapse under the weight of our sins.
God of Grace
What should God do with these people? What would be right and just for God to do to a people that are stubbornly steeped in sins? They refuse to turn to the Lord. They are openly declaring that their joy is not in the Lord but in the things of the world. They have forsaken the Lord, despised the Holy One of Israel, and are like strangers before the Lord. What should God do about these things? Listen to the words of verse 9:
If the LORD of hosts had not left us a few survivors, we should have been like Sodom, and become like Gomorrah. (Isaiah 1:9 ESV)
It would have been right for the nation, particularly Jerusalem, to have been consumed in judgment just like Sodom and Gomorrah. The contextual reference is likely 722 BC when the Assyrian nation came in and captured the northern nation, called Israel, and captured all of Judah also, except for the city of Jerusalem. Do you remember what happened so that Jerusalem was spared? Read 2 Kings 19:32-37.
“Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. 33 By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the LORD. 34 For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”
And that night the angel of the LORD went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. 36 Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went home and lived at Nineveh. 37 And as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, Adrammelech and Sharezer, his sons, struck him down with the sword and escaped into the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place. (2 Kings 19:32–37 ESV)
Grace comes when there should have been utter destruction. If God had not intervened with grace, there would have been nothing left and no one left. But we see the faithfulness of the Lord to preserve a remnant. God said he would defend the city for his own sake and for the sake of David (implied is because of the promises he made to David). So God sends an angel of the Lord who kills 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in the night, causing the permanent retreat of Assyria. When Sennacherib returns to Ninevah, God’s hand move again and Sennacherib is killed by his sons. God in his grace brings deliverance and victory.
Which master do we want to be with? Do we recognize God is our master, provider, and caregiver and therefore seek him, love him, and follow him? Or are we dumber than a donkey, rebelling against our master and refusing to enjoy what God has to offer his children?