RPM, Volume 15, Number 32, August 4 to August 10, 2013

Asking for Trouble

Isaiah 1:2-9

By D. Marion Clark


Tonight's passage fits in well with the morning passage regarding John the Baptist. Isaiah's opening words follow the same line of thinking as John's. Something is terribly wrong, viz. the sins of the people.

God's Complaint

2 Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth!

Isaiah opens by calling for witnesses. The heavens and the earth, God's creation, are to act as witnesses to God's complaint or accusation. The charge turns out to be a domestic complaint. A father is complaining about his rebellious children: I reared children and brought them up.

These are not children born of God, but adopted by him. They were chosen by him among all the other nations. The Exodus is the act by which he, in a sense, officially adopted them and began to rear them as his own. But…but they have rebelled against me.

The problem is rebellion.

Verse 4b:
They have forsaken the LORD;
they have spurned the Holy One of Israel
and turned their backs on him.

Verse 5:
Why do you persist in rebellion?

Now, it is one thing to rebel; it is another to be foolish. God, through Isaiah, goes on to point out the foolishness of the rebellion.

3 "The ox knows his master,
the donkey his owner's manger,
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand."

Israel acts as though she has forgotten to whom she belongs. The animal of little sense at least understands that. The ox and the donkey at least understand who feeds them. But Israel acts as though there is no peculiar relationship with God. Though they are the people of the covenant, the people chosen of God and for whom God performed his great act of redemption from Egypt, they now live as any other people.

And who is that they have rebelled against? Their Father who has done so much for them. And wasn't like God owed them special recognition. He chose them not for anything of themselves as though they deserved his special treatment: 7 The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands (Deuteronomy 7:7-9).

What's their problem? Their problem is sin — they are loaded with guilt. They are bad kids. The problem is not simply a matter of God's kids saying they want their freedom; they are bullies; they are corrupt; they take bribes and oppress the weak.
4 Ah, sinful nation,
a people loaded with guilt,
a brood of evildoers,
children given to corruption!

The Diagnosis

Though this rebellion is taking place, God, however, is not in a quandary about how to enact appropriate punishment. The heavens and earth are not the judiciary that he is appealing to for justice. They are simply the witnesses to whom he is declaring his judgments. Isaiah speaks for him to Israel about the situation.

5 Why should you be beaten anymore?
Why do you persist in rebellion?
Your whole head is injured,
your whole heart afflicted.
6 From the sole of your foot to the top of your head
there is no soundness—
only wounds and welts
and open sores,
not cleansed or bandaged
or soothed with oil.

It is one thing to sin, thinking that you are getting the good life or at least getting away with it. Israel is getting away with nothing. She sins; God punishes. She persists and her afflictions grow only worse, so that her whole body is suffering from the beatings she has received.

Isaiah moves from metaphor to real description of Israel's woes.

7 Your country is desolate,
your cities burned with fire;
your fields are being stripped by foreigners
right before you,
laid waste as when overthrown by strangers.

We are not given the historical context; we don't know what time period Isaiah is writing in. Evidently he is referring to one of the times that the land has been invaded. The country is in obvious bad shape. She is in a precarious position.

8 The Daughter of Zion is left
like a shelter in a vineyard,
like a hut in a field of melons,
like a city under siege.

She is like a flimsy shelter in a vineyard or melon patch. She is not internally sound, and, by the way, she is under attack externally. Her condition is not good. Indeed, if the Lord had not acted on her behalf, she would have been destroyed by now, Isaiah points out.

9 Unless the LORD Almighty
had left us some survivors,
we would have become like Sodom,
we would have been like Gomorrah.

God has punished his children, but his intention in punishing is to chastise or to discipline; he does .not intend for them to be destroyed, but rather to turn to him. He leaves a remnant that will turn back and follow him.


Many parents who have raised children through all the stages leading into adulthood can identify with God in his complaint. We can shake our heads and bemoan with God about wayward children who reject our authority and care to their own detriment. And we can easily see how the people of our culture in general are just like the Israelites.

The problem of mankind is that we are rebellious, ignorant, and stubborn. We are rebellious against God; ignorant of him and our sin; and stubborn in persisting in our futile ways.

We are rebellious. Our problem is not that we can't believe in God; it is that we refuse to believe in God, at least God as he is. We want God on our terms or not at all, and our terms are that he serve us.

We are ignorant of him and our sin. We do not grasp his holiness nor do we grasp the depth of our sin. We think we know him, but we don't. We have created our own images, even the images that we reject. God is simply a bigger pictures of ourselves, and we, by the way, are not all that bad, and certainly not needy.

We are stubborn in persisting in our futile ways. There is "nothing new under the sun." We follow the same futile paths of religion; the same futile paths of escape; the same futile paths of trying to make a life that glorifies ourselves. And we do this despite the obvious destructive results.

As God was particularly upset with Israel, so he is with those who are in the church and have grown up in the church. Israel should have known better. Note her advantages: Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen (Romans 9:4,5).

They had the special relationship and exposure to God, and they blew it. We in the church should heed the moral. What do we have we grow up in the church? We have the Word of God; we have the truth proclaimed; we have the sacraments to bear witness; we have the body of Christ. How much greater is our accountability and our foolishness in rebelling.

And this is not just a message to the unsaved. For we as true believers are also susceptible to rebellion. How many of us and how many times have we wandered from the path we vowed to follow? How many times have we rejected God's counsel? How often do we still hold to false doctrine because it pleases us? The danger for us is that we believe we can't rebel or follow false paths. We've committed our lives to Christ, right? How then can we go wrong? We can go wrong just as our spiritual ancestors did in Isaiah's day.

And we can be sick and beaten up and still not recognize our symptoms. Indeed, we can mistake our symptoms of rebellion as being symptoms of obedience, believing that all that is going wrong is the result of our faithfulness to God when in truth they are the result of our stubbornness in following our pride and prejudices.

We would all do well to take a spiritual check-up periodically. We would do well to pray with the psalmist the words in Psalm 139:23,24:

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

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