Isaiah 1:2-3 “God Confronts His Rebellious Children”
Isaiah 1:2-3 “God Confronts His Rebellious Children”
Theme: The theme of Isaiah is God revealing himself as the Holy One who confronts and judges sin, yet also provides salvation. In some ways, then, chapter 1 is the overture of the work as a whole, as God confronts Israel with its sin, but shows the way to salvation through repentance and faith.
- I. The Sinful Nation (1:1-5:30)
- A. God Confronts Sinful Israel (1:1-31)
- 1. Introduction to the Vision (1:1)
- 2. God Confronts His Rebellious Children (1:2-9)
- 3. God Hates Hypocritical Worship (1:10-15)
- 4. The Way of Repentance (1:16-19)
- 5. The Threat of Judgment (1:20)
- 6. God’s Evaluation of Jerusalem (1:21-23)
- 7. The LORD will turn against Zion (1:24-31)
- B. Hope and Judgment Balanced (2:1-4:6)
- 1. Hope and the Mountain of the LORD (2:1-5)
- 2. The Day of the LORD and Judgment (2:6-4:1)
- 3. The Return of the Glory Cloud (4:2-6)
- C. Judgment and Woe Upon a Sinful People (5:1-30)
- 1. The LORD’s Vineyard Destroyed (5:1-7)
- 2. Woe to the Wicked (5:8-30)
- A. God Confronts Sinful Israel (1:1-31)
Introduction: Isaiah can easily be divided into two sections- Chapters 1-39 deal with Judgment and Chapters 40-66 deal with Salvation, hence the two great themes of the book. All too often in the past 60 years, the evangelical church in America has preached a message of salvation but we have, under pressure, failed to confront our society with the impending judgment of God. We must first be confronted by the holiness of God and his Law, revealing our sinfulness, God’s judgment and our inability, THEN proclaim the GOOD NEWS that Jesus has fulfilled the Law, accepted judgment on our behalf, and is offering us Grace from God and Peace with God if we but repent, believe, and follow Him.
Chapters 1-5 serve as an introduction to the rest of the book, and chapter 1 is the introduction to the introduction. In this one chapter we see the great themes of Isaiah demonstrated. God announces a criminal prosecution of Israel for their rebellion, but offers of grace and forgiveness are also made. Geoffrey W. Grogan, writing in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol.6, “Isaiah” p.28, says, “This chapter fitly opens the book. It vigorously and with many a memorable phrase sums up the teaching, not only of Isaiah, but of the whole prophetic movement.” Verse 1 sets the historical background and I have previously dealt with that verse.
Today I will examine vss.2-3 “God Confronts His Sinful Children”. In this passage we will see the seriousness with which God confronts Israel’s sin (and ours!) as he relates their sin back to the covenant and even creation.
The main idea of this text for us is that we must understand how horrible and devastating our sins are. America, like ancient Israel, has squandered a rich, blessed, and godly heritage. We too are facing God in his court and we must repent or perish!
- I. Literary Structure
- A. Courtroom Language
- 1. Grogan (p.29) writes, “These two verses (2-3) appear to introduce a trial scene…” John N. Oswalt writes in The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1-39, Eerdmans, 1986, “While we may question whether this chapter is set up in every detail as a lawsuit, we can agree that many of the elements are present.” (p.81).
- 2. Isaiah uses covenantal terms in these opening verses in order to show that Israel is being charged with violating the covenant. Though Judah and Jerusalem are the targets of Isaiah’s ministry, he here uses the name of Israel in verses 3-4, which hearkens back to when Israel was whole (now they are divided into the Northern Kingdom and Judah). Vs 2 points back to Deut.4:26 “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today”; 30:19-20 and 32:1 “Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak, and let the earth hear the words of my mouth.” Isaiah also uses the covenantal name for God in v.2 “the LORD”, YHWH, and the use of the word “rebelled” in v.2 is also related to the Sovereign-subject relationship and the violation of the subject’s obligations. The King is prosecuting his people!
- 3. It has been fashionable as long as I can remember (the 1960’s?) to complain about the view of God as a cosmic cop or a Judge. As guilty sinners we just do not like the idea of God being the ultimate Judge and us being the criminals. While certainly it is not a good idea to always portray God as the Judge who finds us guilty and never as the loving Father who sacrifices his only Son so that we might be forgiven, nonetheless, God remains our Judge. When we look at the sins of America (even though America is very likely the most blessed and good country in the world) we realize that God has every right to judge us as he did ancient Israel. And when we examine our hearts, minds and actions in the light of God’s Word we understand that we as individuals are guilty before a holy God.
- A. Courtroom Language
- B. Structure and Style
- 1. John D.W. Watts, in the Word Biblical Commentary, vol.24 Isaiah 1-33, Word Books, 1985, p.15, shows there is a chiasmus structure in ch.1 that goes like this:
A Children have I reared…but they have rebelled (1:2)
B The ox knows…but Israel does not know (1:3)
C Ah sinful nation…Why will you continue to rebel (1:4-5)
D raw wounds…country lies desolate (1:6-7)
Key passage- overthrown by foreigners…like a besieged city…like Sodom (1:7c-9)
D1 Vain worship (1:10-15)
C1 Hands full of blood…wash…do good (1:15b-17)
B1 let us reason together…if you are willing (1:18-20)
A1 the faithful city has become a whore (1:21-23)
- 3. The type of literature that we find in chapter one is called stream of consciousness; it is not organized along a neat structure or theme. This is a passionate, emotional form of writing, as is common with most poetry. Tenses are mixed with some present tenses and some future as well as the prophetic tense that tells of things yet to happen as if they already have happened.
- II. The Charge of Rebellion, vss.2-3
- A. The Witnesses, v.2
- 1. “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth” As stated above, this verse looks back to Deut. 4:26 “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today”; 30:19 “I call heaven and earth to witness against you…”; and, 32:1 “Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak, and let the earth hear the words of my mouth.” This personification of the heavens and the earth as witnesses is like saying, “Because the heavens and earth still obey me, they can be witnesses against Israel.” In this sense the verse also looks back to Gen.1:1 “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The earth produces vegetation and the animals at God’s command, and, in ch. 8:22 “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” The earth remains obedient, but not Israel. The greater and lesser lights of Gen. 1:14-18 still rule over the day and night and still distinguish between the time and seasons, days and years; but Israel, supposedly a light to the nations, cannot be distinguished from the pagan world. The sun will keep on shining but the dark of night is falling on Israel. John Mackay points out in Isaiah Volume 1: Chapters 1-39, Evangelical Press, 2008, p.46, “Ultimately this will involve nothing less than the institution of a new heavens and a new earth (65:17; 66:22).”
- 2. Jesus uses a similar saying in Luke 19:28-40, the Triumphal Entry, when he says in v.40 “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out!” In other words, if the people who were praising him, and rightly proclaiming him as King, were to be quiet, Creation itself would shout out praises of its Maker and King. This also points us back to Psalm 19:1 “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”
- 3. Perhaps the point, then, is that God’s created order reflects his glory and righteousness, but Israel, in their sin, and man, in his sin, rejects God and is struggling against even the created order. All of creation recognizes God’s authority except for sinful Israel and sinful man. That is a heavy indictment for sure.
- B. The Judge, v. 2a
- 1. “for the LORD has spoken”- The LORD is the translation for YHWH, the covenant name for God revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14. The LORD of the Covenant is charging Israel with breaking the covenant. He is the One pressing charges. This is very similar to how kings/emperors in the Middle East behaved. If a subject people did not live up to their obligations under the treaty the king/emperor would send an emissary to the rebellious people to proclaim his dissatisfaction and present them with an either/or judgment. Either they get in line and obey or destruction awaits. Here, the LORD speaks through his prophet, Isaiah.
- 2. As the sovereign King, the LORD alone can be the Judge. The concept of God judging people and the nations is all throughout Scripture. Gen.18:25 Abraham is speaking with the LORD who has come to warn him of the impending judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham says, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” and he proceeds to intercede for Sodom, because his nephew, Lot, resides there. God is the Judge of all the earth. Psalm 7:8-11
- A. The Witnesses, v.2
8 The Lord judges the peoples;
judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness
and according to the integrity that is in me.
9 Oh, let the evil of the wicked come to an end,
and may you establish the righteous—
you who test the minds and hearts,
O righteous God!
10 My shield is with God,
who saves the upright in heart.
11 God is a righteous judge,
and a God who feels indignation every day.
Acts 17:30-31 says “but now he (God) command all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man (Jesus) whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” Jesus will be the Judge on the end of days.
- 3. It is inconvenient for people to think about God as Judge, and abhorrent to them to think of Christ as Judging people. Matt. 25:31-46 Jesus, referring to himself as the Son of Man, tells of his return to earth to judge. People prefer to think of God as a cosmic Santa Clause and of Jesus as a sweet babe in a manger or as our Friend, but he is also going to be judging in a most terrifying manner on the day of his return. Perhaps we have sung “Just As I Am” a few too many times. Current thought is that we can have Jesus as Savior without also having him as Lord. This is antinomian heresy at its worst and results in people thinking they do not have to repent, that God made them the way they are and he loves them just the way they are; there is no need to change. But here is Isaiah 1, the LORD of the covenant is looking for, demanding, change. Judgment day approaches for Israel, and now, for America.
- 4. Hebrews 10:30-31 “For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
- C. The Father, v.2b
- 1. “Children have I reared and brought up,”- The Judge is also the Father of the charged. Many people have told me through the years that they did not much care for “the God of the Old Testament” because he is a harsh judge. Yet the Old Testament also shows God to be concerned for his people as a father is concerned for his children or as a husband is for his wife. The OT is full of God’s tenderness, grace, love and mercy.
- 2. We have shown that verse 2 of Isaiah 1 points back to Deut. 32:1, but if you continue to v.6 of Deut. 32 you find this, “Do you thus repay the LORD, you foolish and senseless people? Is not he your father, who created you, who made you and established you?” Again it seems that Isaiah clearly has this Deuteronomy passage in mind as he writes. The idea of the fatherhood of God goes back to Deuteronomy, but it can even be traced back to the creation account in Genesis 1-2, as Luke clearly shows in the genealogy of Christ in Luke 3:38 “…Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.”
- 3. Jesus refers to God as his father many times, but in John 5:17-18 he makes it clear: “But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I am working.’ 18 This is why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” And Jesus clearly teaches his disciples, and us, to call God Father in the Lord’s Prayer in Matt. 6:9 “Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven…”
- 4. The word for reared literally means “made great” which points us back to Gen. 12:2 and God’s promise to Abram, “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great so that you will be a blessing.” As the rest of Isaiah 1 will show, Israel is no longer a great nation for they forgot how they were reared. Their name is no longer great, they are now wicked and corrupt, having forsaken their God. “brought up” points to the LORD’s tender care for his children. Think of Israel in the desert fleeing Pharaoh’s army. God put his pillar of fire between them and the army, he opened a path through the Red Sea on dry land, but closed the Sea upon the Egyptian Army. When Israel was thirsty he gave them water, when hungry he gave them food. He revealed himself to them at Sinai and gave them his Law and instructions for worship.
- 5. Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 clearly portrays God as the Father and Israel, or other lost souls, like us, as the prodigal son. Paul teaches us in Rom.8:15-17 that we are sons of God and can cry, “Abba! Father!” because we are joint heirs with Christ.
- 6. Any parent who has had a child enter a deep and long lasting rebellion knows the pain and agony of the soul that creates. To watch the child you brought into the world and have provided for through the years deliberately make bad decisions, go the wrong way, bring shame and dishonor to the family name, is a horribly painful process. There is perhaps no greater burden. This is the kind of pain God experiences, only magnified to an unfathomable degree, as he watches Israel rebel. As he watches us rebel.
- D. The Charge, v.2b
- 1. “but they have rebelled against me.” The charge is rebellion against the King and Father. The same word is used in the very last verse of Isaiah, 66:24 “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh” in another passage about God’s judgment that closes the book (66:15-24). The idea of rebellion and judgment in the first and last chapters of the book is no coincidence. Rebellion against the LORD will result in judgment.
- 2. John Mackay writes, p.48, “The language of parent and child reminded Israel that their existence as a community was not primarily an ethnic or linguistic or political phenomenon, but the product of divine grace which brought every individual in the nation into a special relationship to Yahweh. It was therefore all the more crass and heinous that they had rebelled against him.”
- 3. The word for “children” is an emphatic in Hebrew indicating how outrageous, unthinkable, and unnatural this rebellion is.
- 4. One cannot read through Exodus-Deuteronomy without seeing the pattern of rebellion in Israel’s life. Then, as you read through 1-2 Kings it is again made clear. But before we judge Israel too harshly, we must realize that all sin is rebellion, and each of us is a sinner.
- 5. The King James Version of v.2b reads, “I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me.” Keil & Delitzsch translate it this way, “I have brought up children, and raised them high, and they have fallen away from me.” (Keil&Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament, vol.7, Isaiah, p.50).
E. The Analogy, vs.3a
- 1. “The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib,” – Isaiah is comparing Israel with the average ox and donkey who know who feeds them and cares for them. The animals treat their masters well because the masters take good care of them. Even dumb animals know better than Israel! Israel’s rebellion is shown to be unnatural. As Proverbs 7:22 points out, an ox will follow its master to the slaughter, but Israel won’t even follow God to blessings and bounty. In George Orwell’s classic, “Animal Farm” (which by the way, if you have not read lately, you REALLY need to read again, especially in light of the politics and economics of America since 2008) the animals stage a rebellion against the owner of the farm. In the end, however, the “workers paradise” they have established is run by the pigs who are now indistinguishable from the former human masters, and the farm is not so well managed and the animals suffer. When we rebel against God and try to run things on our own, rejecting God’s authority, we make things a mess and bring more suffering and shame upon ourselves.
- 2. Referencing the donkey calls to mind the incident with Balaam and his donkey in Numbers 22:22ff where the female donkey could see the Angel of the LORD but Balaam, intent on sinning, could not.
- 3. The other reference to a donkey that comes to mind is Matt. 21:1-11, the Triumphal Entry, where Jesus fulfills Zech.9:9 and Isa. 62:11. The donkey had never been ridden before, (Luke 19:30-36), yet it recognized his Master and was calm, just as the storm calmed when Jesus spoke. Yet here it seems Israel does not recognize her Master’s voice.
- 4. John DW Watts in the Word Biblical Commentary, vol.24, 1985, p.17, points out that Pseudo-Matthew 14 tells the story of the ox and ass worshiping the baby Jesus at the manger in Bethlehem as a fulfillment of this prophecy in Isaiah 1:3.
- 5. How often do we “bite the hand that feeds us”? This passage communicates an overwhelming message that Israel, and all of us sinners, are guilty of rebellion and ingratitude that is unnatural. Even the animals are grateful to their master for feeding them, but we are not. I find myself complaining about what I do not have, or used to have and have now lost, instead of thanking God for his current blessings. Ingratitude leads to bitterness and despair, and then to other sins.
- 6. I have seen on my grandfather’s farm, and on the ranches I have hunted on, how the cattle behave at certain times of day when the rancher comes out in his pickup truck to feed. The cattle know the time of day, they know the difference between the rancher’s truck and others, they know the rancher’s voice, and they know it is dinnertime and who feeds them. The cattle all begin trotting in line to the barn or wherever the feed is going to be. They do not ignore the rancher. Yet we ignore God. My father raises donkeys, and when my dad comes down to the barn, Cracker Jack would immediately come to my father from wherever he is in the pasture. He wanted to be around my dad. My father tells me that donkeys are very sociable, affectionate animals; Cracker Jack was true to form. Yet in our sin, we run from God, and show him no affection though he feeds and cares for us.
- F. The Charge, Part Two, v.3b
- 1. “but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” The word “know” is covenant language, according to Oswalt, NICOT, p. 86. Israel came to know the LORD at Sinai as they entered into covenant with him, but now they do not know, nor understand. To know expresses a deep degree of intimacy, experiential knowledge. Israel is no longer experiencing God, they have lost their intimate relationship with the LORD. They have no understanding of spiritual truth as is evidenced by their rebellion.
- 2. Hosea 4:6 “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.” This is not mere head knowledge that the two prophets are speaking of, it is experiential knowledge, intimate knowledge. If we choose to be ignorant, to be willfully ignorant, to walk away or drift away from God, we are trading diamonds for marbles (Vance Havner, Steve Camp).
- 3. “my people” (Heb. ‘ammi) is a favorite term with Isaiah who uses it 11 times in chapters 1-39 and 12 times in 40-66. Though he is prosecuting Israel for violating the covenant, yet he still refers to them as his children and his people.
- 4. The charge that Israel does not know or understand implies that they should have known and understood. They have eyes that will not see and ears that will not see, Isaiah 6:9 “Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.” Jesus used this kind of language as well, Matt.7:24-27; Mark 4:12.
- 5. Edward J. Young, The Book of Isaiah, vol.1 Chapters 1-18, Eerdmans, 1965, p.41, reminds us of God’s grace as he writes, “Israel does not know who her Creator and Preserver is. God manifested knowledge toward Israel when he set upon her His particular, discriminating, sovereign, electing love. In return Israel did not even have a knowledge comparable to that of the ox or ass. If the chosen people know so little, how great must be the ignorance of those who are not chosen. And how obvious it now is that all that Israel received in the way of spiritual blessing was a gift from God.”