God Has Had Enough ~ Yesha’yahu 1:10-17

In my last post, we examined Yesha’yahu 1:1-9 ~ The Rebellion of God’s People. In this post, we continue in Yesha’yahu 1: 10-17 to learn that God Has Had Enough.

10 Hear what Adonai says, you rulers of S’dom! Listen to God’s Torah, you people of ‘Amora! 11 ‘Why are all those sacrifices offered to me?’ asks Adonai. ‘I’m fed up with burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened animals! I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls, lambs, and goats! 12 Yes, you come to appear in my presence; but who asked you to do this, to trample through my courtyards? 13 Stop bringing worthless grain offerings! They are like disgusting incense to me! Rosh-Hodesh [New Moon festival], Shabbat, calling convocations – I can’t stand evil together with your assemblies! 14 Everything in me hates your Rosh-Hodesh and your festivals; they are a burden to me – I’m tired of putting up with them! 15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; no matter how much you pray, I won’t be listening; because your hands are covered with blood. 16 Wash yourselves clean! Get your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing evil, 17 learn to do good! Seek justice, relieve the oppressed, defend orphans, plead for the widow.’” ~ Isaiah 1:10-17 (CJB)

In these verses, God expressed His revulsion at the religious practices of His people. The disgusting thing about His rebellious people is that they were also a religious people (Isaiah 1:10-15). They attended the Temple services and brought a multitude of sacrifices to the Lord. However, their hearts were far from God, and their worship was hypocritical. In other words, they were too heavenly minded and no earthly good.

Sacrifices alone can never please God. God wants our inward obedience (1 Samuel 15:22), a broken heart (Psalm 51:17), and a godly walk (Micah 6:8).

Though God will not punish the people with total annihilation as He did the cities of S’dom and ‘Amora, it is not as if they did not deserve that fate. Their rulers were like the inhabitants of those depraved cities who denied hospitality to strangers and engaged in perverse sexual acts.

God had commanded His people to offer sacrifices in Leviticus 1-7, but the sacrifices of His people were reprehensible to Him. They were not offered with pure motives of sincere repentance. Rather, they were offered with hands covered with blood.

The Temple was considered a sacred space that was protected by closely monitored, restricted access. Admission to the general public was granted only when a sacrifice needed to be offered and then only to the outer court. Entrance to sacred space for anything but holy purpose would be sacrilegious trespassing. Recall the account of Yeshua cleansing the Temple of the merchants and the money-changers in Matthew 21:12-13.

In the ancient world, incense was valued as an accompaniment to sacrifice. Its sweet scent effectively masked any of the unpleasant odors resulting from the performance of the rituals. It was expensive and commanded in Leviticus 2:1.

Keyed to the use of a lunar calendar, ancient Israel marked the first day of the month with Rosh-Hodesh. It is “new moon” phase festival day every twenty-nine or thirty days. As on the Sabbath, all work was to cease (see Numbers 10:10), and there were sacrifices to be made. What had been designed as a means to praise and honor God, however, was not bringing any pleasure to him.

Why wouldn’t God hear the prayers of His people? Because their sacrifices, times of worship, and even prayers were not acceptable because their hands were covered with blood. That is, they sinned and did not repent but still participated in worship. God did not tolerate such hypocritical behavior.

Sometimes we wonder why our prayers aren’t answered. We go to church regularly. We lift our hands in praise. We tithe. But God says all of that is irrelevant if we’re harboring sin in our life. If we’re compromising, if we’re trying to be righteous through our efforts or energy, if we’re failing to realize our need to come before God in brokenness, God won’t answer our prayers – not because He’s mad at us or because He doesn’t like us anymore, but because He’s saying, “There’s something wrong in your relationship with Me. If I continue to answer your prayers, you will persist in those things, and they’ll destroy you. So you’re not going to sense My presence. You’re not going to have answers to your prayers so that you might seek Me.” [1]

This passage gives a prescription for change – repent. Transformation involves a cessation of evil activities as well as the requirement of good deeds. The good deeds are defined as social justice, particularly resisting oppressors and promoting the interests of the vulnerable (the orphans and the widows).

“The religious observance that God the Father considers pure and faultless is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being contaminated by the world.” ~ James 1:27 (CJB)

In my next post, I will explore Yesha’yahu 1:18-31 ~ The Unfaithful City.

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[1] Jon Courson’s Application Commentary Old Testament Volume 2.

Introduction to Yesha’yahu (Isaiah) ~ Part 2

In my last post, we began to look at some background material on the book of Yesha’yahu. In this post, we continue to look at the man, the kings that were ruling at the time, and his disclosure of the coming of the Messiah.

The Man

The name Yesha’yahu means “salvation of the Lord,” and salvation (deliverance) is the key theme of his book. He wrote concerning five different acts of deliverance that God would perform:

  • the deliverance of Y’hudah [Judah] from Ashur [Assyria] invasion (chaps. 36-37);
  • the deliverance of the nation from Babylonian captivity (chap. 40);
  • the future deliverance of the Jews from worldwide dispersion among the Gentiles (chaps. 11-12);
  • the deliverance of lost sinners from judgment (chap. 53); and,
  • the final deliverance of creation from the bondage of sin when the kingdom is established (chaps. 60; 66:17ff).

Yesha’yahu was married, and his wife was called “the prophetess” (8:3 NASB), either because she was married to a prophet or because she shared the prophetic gift. He fathered two sons whose names have prophetic significance: Sh’ar Yashuv [Shear-jashub] (“a remnant shall return,” 7:3) and Maher Shalal Hash Baz (“the spoil hurries, the prey speeds along,” 8:1-3). The two names speak of the nation’s judgment and restoration, two important themes in Yesha’yahu’s prophecy.

Yesha’yahu was called to his ministry in the year that King ’Uziyahu [Uzziah] died (6:1), which was 739 BCE. Tradition says that M’nasheh [Manasseh], King Y’chizkiyahu’s [Hezekiah] successor, killed Yesha’yahu by having him sawn in half (Messianic Jews 11:37), but there is no record of this in Scripture.

What kind of man was Yesha’yahu the prophet? As you read his prophecy, you will discover that he was a man in touch with God. He saw God’s Son and God’s glory (chap. 6; John 12:41), he heard God’s message, and he sought to bring the nation back to God before it was too late.

Yesha’yahu was a man who loved his nation. The phrase “my people” is used at least twenty-six times in his book. He was a patriot with a true love for his country, pleading with Y’hudah to return to God and warning kings when their foreign policy was contrary to God’s will. Yesha’yahu was certainly a courageous man. Unafraid to denounce kings and priests, and unwavering when public opinion went against him, he boldly declared the Word of God. He was a man skilled in communicating God’s truth. Not content with merely declaring facts, Yesha’yahu clothed those facts in striking language that would catch the attention of a people blind and deaf to spiritual truth (6:9-10).

The Kings of Y’hudah

The nation had divided after the death of Shlomo [Solomon] (1 Kings 12), but the priesthood and the Davidic throne belonged to Y’hudah. The ten northern tribes formed the kingdom of Isra’el (Efrayim), with Shomron as its capital city, and Binyamin and Y’hudah united to form the kingdom of Y’hudah, with Yerushalayim [Jerusalem] as its capital city. Though Yesha’yahu predicted the fall of Isra’el to Ashur (chap. 28), which occurred in 722 BCE, his major focus was on Y’hudah and Yerushalayim (1:1).

‘Uziyahu [Uzziah] is also called ‘Azaryah. At the age of sixteen, he became co-regent with his father, Amatzyahu, and was on the throne for fifty-two years (792-740). When his father was assassinated in 767, ‘Uziyahu became the sole ruler and brought the nation to its greatest days since David and Shlomo (2 Kings 14:17-22; 15:1-7; 2 Chronicles 26:1-15). He tried to intrude into the priest’s ministry in the temple, and God judged him by smiting him with tzara’at [leprosy]. It was in the year that King ‘Uziyahu died that Yesha’yahu was called to minister.

Yotam [Jotham] was co-regent after his father became infected with tzara’at [leprosy], and his record as a king was a good one (2 Kings 15:32-38; 2 Chronicles 27). He reigned for twenty years, and it was during his time that the Ashurean Empire began to emerge as a new and threatening power. During the last twelve years of Yotam’s reign, his son Achaz served as co-regent, but Achaz was not one of Y’hudah’s good kings.

Achaz [Ahaz] forged political alliances that eventually brought Y’hudah into bondage to Ashur (2 Kings 16; 2 Chron. 28). Egypt repeatedly threatened Y’hudah from the south and by Aram [Syria] and Isra’el from the north, and Achaz depended on an alliance with Ashur to protect himself. Yesha’yahu warned Achaz that his alliances with godless Gentiles would not work, and he encouraged the king to put his trust in the Lord (Isaiah 7).

Y’chizkiyahu [Hezekiah] reigned forty-two years and was one of Y’hudah’s greatest kings (2 Kings 18-20; 2 Chron. 29-32). He not only strengthened the city of Yerushalayim and the nation of Y’hudah but led the people back to the Lord. He built the famous water system that still exists in Yerushalayim.

The ministry of Yesha’yahu spans over fifty years, from 739 to 686 BCE and it probably extended into the early years of King M’nasheh’s reign. It was a difficult time of international upheaval when first one power and then another threatened Y’hudah. But the greatest dangers were not outside the nation: they were within. In spite of the godly leadership of King Y’chizkiyahu, Y’hudah had no more godly kings. One by one, Y’chizkiyahu’s successors led the nation into political and spiritual decay, ending in captivity in Babylon.

The Messiah

Yesha’yahu is much more than a prophet. He is an evangelist who presents Yeshua the Messiah and the Good News of the Gospel. Yesha’yahu’sServant Song” about Yeshua (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) is quoted or alluded to nearly forty times in the Brit Hadashah.

The prophet wrote about the birth of Yeshua (7:14; 9:6; Matt. 1:18-25); the ministry of Yochanan the Immerser (Isaiah 40:1-6; Matt. 3:1ff); Yeshua’s anointing by the Spirit (Isaiah 61:1-2; Luke 4:17-19); the nation’s rejection of their Messiah (Isaiah 6:9-11; John 12:38ff); Yeshua, the stone to stumble over (Isaiah 8:14; 28:16; Romans 9:32-33; 10:11; 1 Peter 2:6); Yeshua’s ministry to the Gentiles (Isaiah 49:6; Luke 2:32; Acts 13:47); the Messiah’s suffering and death (Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Acts 3:13; 8:32-33; 1 Peter 2:21-25); His resurrection (Isaiah 55:3; Acts 13:34); and His return to reign as King (Isaiah 9:6-7; 11:1ff; 59:20-21; 63:1-3; Rom. 11:26-27; Rev. 19:13-15). There are many other references in Yesha’yahu to the Messiah, and we will notice them as we study this book.

It is this emphasis on redemption that gives Yesha’yahu a message for the whole world. While it is true he ministered to the little nation of Y’hudah and wrote about nations and empires that for the most part are no longer on the world scene; his focus was on God’s plan of salvation for the whole world. Yesha’yahu saw the greatness of God and the vastness of His plan of salvation for Jews and Gentiles alike. Yesha’yahu was a patriot but not a bigot; he saw beyond his nation to the gracious work God would do among the Gentile nations of the world.

As you study Yesha’yahu and discover God’s prophetic plan for the nations of the world, don’t miss his emphasis on the personal message of God’s forgiveness. “Come now,” says Adonai“let’s talk this over together. Even if your sins are like scarlet, they will be white as snow; even if they are red as crimson, they will be like wool.” ~ Isaiah 1:18 (CJB)

In my next post, I will begin an in-depth, verse-by-verse study of one of my favorite prophets.

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Introduction to Yesha’yahu (Isaiah) ~ Part 1

In my last post, we dug into the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy and the Office of the Prophet within the Kehilah in our time. Over the last several months, the small Skype-group I attend on Tuesday afternoons has been using the Lifeguide’s Bible Study on Yesha’yahu. There are only 24 lessons, so you know that we are not covering his entire book. Although somewhat reluctant to continue in the topic of prophecy, I sensed a tug in my spirit to do an in-depth, verse-by-verse study on my own and I will be sharing that with you throughout the next several months or so. Since there is a lot of background material I want to share, I have made the Introduction a two-part series.

Introduction

Sir Winston Churchill was once asked to give the qualifications a person needed to succeed in politics, and he replied: “It is the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen.” [1]

Because God’s prophets were correct all the time, they didn’t have to explain away their mistakes. When a prophet speaks in the name of Adonai, and the prediction does not come true — that is, the word is not fulfilled — then Adonai did not speak that word. The prophet who said it spoke presumptuously; you have nothing to fear from him.” ~ Deuteronomy 18:22 (CJB) To the law and the testimony, wrote Yesha’yahu, “For they [false prophets] will indeed give you this unenlightened suggestion.” ~ Yesha’yahu 8:20 (CJB). Yesha’yahu was a man who had God’s light, and he was not afraid to let it shine.

Since as Believers we believe that there is only one God, and since we understand that prophecy contains messages from that God, we are often inclined to think that prophecy in the Bible is a unique phenomenon. While we may be justified in thinking that any prophecy outside the Bible is fraudulent, the fact remains that biblical prophecy is part of a long tradition of prophecy in the ancient Near East. Even the Bible makes this fact known to us in the narratives about Bil’am and the prophets of Ba’al sponsored by Ach’av and Izevel.

The writing prophets of Isra’el have been designated as the “classical prophets,” and the earliest of these appear at the beginning of the eighth century. Before that time prophets such as Natan, Eliyahu, Elisha and many others are mentioned in the historical literature, but no collections of their oracles are known. They are referred to as the “pre-classical prophets.” These pre-classical prophets show the most similarity to the prophets known from the ancient world. Their messages are directed to the king and concern public policy or other issues of national significance. In that sense, these prophets serve as official or, more frequently, unofficial advisors to the king.

In contrast, the classical prophets often address the people as they offer their social and spiritual commentary. Though their messages include the pronouncement of blessing or rebuke, it is now directed toward society. As a result, the writing prophets’ express warnings concerning captivity and destruction.

In Isra’el the prophets more often represented a counterculture movement. As such the prophets tended to cluster around periods of great turmoil. During the pre-classical period the prophets Moshe, D’vorah, Sh’mu’el, Eliyahu and Elisha all served during troubled times. During the classical period prophetic activity surrounds three key periods:

  1. the Ashur crisis that brought the fall of the northern kingdom (Isra’el) and the siege of Yerushalayim (760-700 BCE: ’Amos, Hoshea, Mikhah, Yesha’yahu)
  2. the Babylonian crisis that brought the fall of Ashur and the fall of Y’hudah and Yerushalayim (650-580 BCE: Havakuk, Tzfanyah, Nachum, Yirmeyahu, Yechezk’el)
  3. the postexilic period with its Persian rule and identity crisis (530-480 BCE: Hagai, Z’kharyah, Yo’el, ’Ovadyah, Mal’akhi; Dan’iel could be counted among these, although he served during the exile). [2]

Yesha’yahu’s book is the first of the prophets in the English canon and the first of the Latter Prophets in the Hebrew canon. Yesha’yahu is powerful in its poetic imagination, intriguing in its prophetic vision, and complex in its structure. One can never read or study the book without having new insights into the nature of God and our relationship with Him. The authors of the Brit Hadashah read the book of Yesha’yahu concerning the coming of Yeshua and realized that this prophet anticipated the Messiah’s coming with remarkable clarity. For this reason, they quoted Yesha’yahu more than any other Tanakh book.

Circumstances of Writing

The book presents itself as the writing of one man, Yesha’yahu, son of Amotz. The first verse dates his prophetic activity as spanning the reigns of four kings of Y’hudah: Uzziah (783-742 BCE), Ahaz (735-716 BCE), and Hezekiah (716-686 BCE). Not much is known about Yesha’yahu apart from his prophecy.

Yesha’yahu’s authorship of the whole book has been vehemently contested in the modern period. Many scholars have argued that the historical Yesha’yahu could not have written chapters 40-66. For those who believe that God knows the future and can reveal it to His servants, it is not problematic that God through Yesha’yahu predicted the rise of Babylon, its victory against Y’hudah, the exile, and the return. Personally, the Ruach wrote the book, and I’m not hung up on who the scribe was.

Uzziah’s reign was a particularly prosperous time in the history of Y’hudah, but storm clouds were on the horizon. Ashur was on the rise again in the person of Tiglat-Pil’eser III (745-727 BCE). The king Ashur threatened to engulf Aram (Syria) and the northern kingdom of Isra’el. After the death of Tiglat-Pil’eser, his successors, Shalman’eser and Sargon, defeated the northern kingdom in 722 BCE and deported its citizens. This event brought Y’hudah even more under the shadow of that great empire.

Message and Purpose

Yesha’yahu‘s message is relatively simple. First, Yesha’yahu accused God’s people of sin, rebelling against the One who made them and redeemed them. Second, Yesha’yahu instructed these sinners to reform their ways and act obediently. Third, Yesha’yahu announced God’s judgment on the people because of their sin. Finally, God revealed His future restoration of the people, or at least of the faithful remnant that survived the judgment. As part of the restoration of God’s people, Yesha’yahu foresaw both judgment on the nations (chaps. 13-23) and a future turning of the nations to God (2:1-4). The first part of the book (chaps. 1-39) emphasizes sin, the call to repentance, and judgment; the second part (chaps. 40-66) emphasizes the hope of restoration. [3]

In my next post, I will continue with our exploration of additional background information on this fascinating book.

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[1] Bible Exposition Commentary (BE Series) – The Prophets.

[2] The IVP Bible Background Commentary – Old Testament.

[3] HCSB Study Bible.