Paul says, in Rom. 15:4, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning” (NKJV) as he writes to the saints (Christians) in Rome (Rom. 1:7 NKJV). The prophetic book of Isaiah written hundreds of years before Christ can teach us much about God–what pleases him, what displeases him, his nature, who he is, what or how he feels, his thoughts, his sense of justice, etc. I think most of us would like to know God better and Isaiah gives us that opportunity. There are lessons for the church, God’s people, found in the very first chapter of Isaiah.
As Isaiah chapter one opens (Isa. 1:1) we learn that we are being told of a vision Isaiah saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem, God’s people in that Old Testament time. I mention that for we must remember that we who are Christians are God’s people today so in terms of broad principles at least, versus specific laws, there is application for us here in Isaiah as well as for those who lived back then. Here are some of the lessons found in the first chapter.
(1) God’s people can cease to know him or understand him. “The ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people do not consider.” (Isa. 1:3 NKJV) Under the Law of Moses a child was born a Jew, a child of God, by physical birth. He/she would have to grow into a knowledge of God and his will as they grew and matured and were taught. Under the Christian dispensation one cannot become a child of God, a Christian, without first having obtained a knowledge of Christ. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” (John 6:44-45 NKJV)
However, I do not believe Isaiah is talking about an ignorance of God like I might have an ignorance of chemistry or of physics but rather a rejection of him based on the idea that things do not matter to God. They had gradually, and it seems almost totally, drifted away from God in their belief that what he had said mattered or that he really cared about the things he had told them through the law and the prophets.
Here is the great lesson for the church and individual Christians today. Have you ever heard it said, “I know what it (reference to the word of God) says but I don’t believe it matters.” I have heard it. I wonder if people in Isaiah’s day were saying that sort of thing. I once knew a lady who was gung ho on women preachers. Paul said, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man.” (1 Tim. 2:12 NKJV) What an inspired preacher had to say about the subject did not matter to her. She rejected Paul but would have argued all day with you that she believed the Bible.
The Jews of Isaiah’s day had recreated God in their own image. He would become what they wanted him to be. We have to be very careful today lest we do the exact same thing. When we begin to say things like that was then this is now, we have to adapt the Bible to modern times, etc., we are starting to travel a dangerous road. Who is the man who is qualified to tell us what changes need to be made in the Christian faith and practice of today versus that of the first century as found in the pages of the New Testament? There are many who feel they are qualified for they are busy telling us all the time what is allowable today even though unheard of in the New Testament but I have always been a little afraid of blind guides leading blind people. That man has created his own brand of Christianity today to suit himself is found in the fact that there are hundreds if not thousands of denominations. They all argue they know God. Do you believe it? I don’t.
Reminds me of the church of the Laodiceans in Rev. 3:14-19 in that Jesus said of them, “Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’ – and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked-.“ (Rev. 3:17 NKJV) The fact an individual or a church calls itself Christian and feels good about itself amounts to about 2 cents if that much. The measuring stick is not man nor men (singular or plural) but the word of God. Even Sardis had a name but Jesus said they were dead (Rev. 3:1); the majority of them like the people in Isaiah’s day had defiled their garments (Rev. 3:4).
There is only one way to know and understand God. One must become a faithful and diligent student of the word of God, not just an occasional and casual reader. One must believe what he reads which involves not only faith in facts that are presented but a trust in God and his promises. One must act upon what he has learned which is to say he must be obedient to it and that from the heart. To know and understand God is to accept God as God which means God over me–my God. In Isaiah’s day God had been forsaken and despised (Isa. 1:4 ESV) for what he had taught no longer mattered. A person or a group’s attitude toward the word of God can tell you a lot about them.
(2) People who reject God may still hold worship services but do so in vain. If one will read Isa. 1:11-15 it becomes clear that the people were still offering sacrifices, burnt offerings, incense, holding to the appointed feasts, observing the Sabbaths, etc. These were divinely given acts of worship but God was not pleased for neither the heart nor the life was right in the worshippers.
God says, “I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.” (Isa. 1:13 ESV) He says their incense “is an abomination to me.” (Isa. 1:13 ESV) Of the new moons and the appointed feasts he says he hates them (Isa. 1:14).
Worship is not acceptable to God that does not first come from a life of purity based on belief of and obedience to God through his word. Please do not let my use of the word purity mislead you into thinking perfection. Perfection is the goal but while man can obtain maturity in the Christian life he cannot obtain perfection in the sense in which we use the word today. The idea Isaiah presents to us is of a people who were practicing iniquity. Sin was a way of life with them. Hypocrites cannot please God nor worship him in a manner acceptable to him. To worship God acceptably one must be making a sincere effort to obey God and live the life. “One who turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be an abomination.” (Prov. 28:9 NKJV)
We all would do well to memorize Prov. 28:9 just quoted for that is our status with God when we become involved in sin and have not or will not repent of it. I would like to have people pray for me as I am sure you would as well if you are a believer but that said I know the prayers of a certain class that might pray for me would all be for naught. Is your life such that if you had a family member in need of prayer you could pray with hope that the prayer would be accepted by God? Are you the righteous man or woman whose prayer avails much (James 5:16)?
We also need to remember that while the application of the lesson is to the individual Isaiah was talking to people who as a group had almost all fallen into this category of iniquity. The point is an entire body of people can fall into this classification, continue to worship God outwardly, and yet the worship be in vain. “In vain they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matt. 15:9 NKJV) Jesus spoke those words in Matthew but he said it was a prophecy of Isaiah and applied it to the people of his own time. That said it is a truth that will always be applicable to those who will teach “as doctrines the commandments of men” and who still try to worship God while doing so.
(3) A third lesson we can take from Isaiah 1 is that God gives man the ability and the opportunity to cleanse himself of sin. “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do good.” (Isa. 1:16 NKJV) A little clarification is in order lest there be misunderstanding. God is not saying that man has it in his own hands to cleanse himself of sin apart from God. God is saying he will conditionally forgive them if they will meet the conditions and it is in their hands as to whether or not they will do so.
The Jews of that day did not have to be living a life of sin. No one forced it on them. They lived that way by choice. Likewise, if they would, they could choose to live a life of godliness and righteousness. They could wash themselves clean by complying with God’s laws of pardon under the Law of Moses but, of course, God would only accept those sacrifices made as an offering for sin if made in sincerity of heart from a penitent heart, a heart that had been genuinely changed, so the pardon was conditional. God always has given accountable man responsibility for his own salvation. There was never a time when salvation was unconditional. (Of course all forgiveness under the Law of Moses looked forward to the atonement for sin made by Jesus on the cross–see Heb. 9:15, 10:1-4, Rom. 3:25.)
(4) A fourth lesson is that God is able and willing to save the greatest of sinners if they will repent and turn to him seeking salvation in his appointed way. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isa. 1:18 NKJV) The colors are put in contrast. Scarlet is a reddish color, the color of blood, signifying great sin. White is the color of purity. The intent is to array opposites against one another. God is saying even now as great as your sin has been I can cleanse you if you are but willing and I can cleanse you perfectly, completely.
We often forget that those who Peter said were guilty of taking Jesus by lawless hands and crucifying him were by faith and obedience to the gospel of Christ, preached by Peter on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, forgiven of their sins and saved. How much greater sin can one commit than that of crucifying Christ? If one can be forgiven of that, cleansed, and made white as snow then men need not fear that their sin is too great for God’s forgiveness.
Elsewhere Paul gave himself as an example of one who had done great sin yet was forgiven by God. He called himself chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15) and says he was forgiven (“obtained mercy”) so that in him Jesus “might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on him for everlasting life.” (1 Tim. 1:15 NKJV) Isaiah teaches us today that sin is not so great that God cannot forgive or is unwilling to forgive. The question lies not with God but with our willingness to give up sin and come to him.
I would also remind those who are backsliding Christians that Isaiah was writing to the people of God. Isaiah teaches restoration of the penitent child of God. “Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and her penitents with righteousness.” (Isa. 1:27 NKJV) Sometimes children of God will wonder away and then have a desire to come home to God but have doubts they can do so, doubts he will have them. The Bible teaches just the opposite. It teaches his great desire to have them come home.
(5) A fifth lesson I take from Isaiah chapter one (although there might well be others in addition should we pursue it in more depth) is that there is a penalty to be paid for rebellion and disobedience, for a life of sin from which one refuses to repent. After Isaiah speaks of the penitents in Isa. 1:27, of their being saved, he goes on in the next verse and says, and I am going to quote from the NLT for its clarity in meaning, “But rebels and sinners will be completely destroyed, and those who desert the Lord will be consumed.” (Isa. 1:28 NLT) Then in the last verse of the chapter, “They and their evil works will burn up together, and no one will be able to put out the fire.” (Isa. 1:31 NLT)
One cannot rebel against one’s creator, the God of the universe. One will pay for his sin, “For the wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23 NKJV) One does not have to be a genius to know the New Testament teaches there is a hell reserved for the unrighteous. It is sometimes called “the second death” or “the lake of fire” (see Rev. 20:14). Jesus says there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 25:30) and says on the Day of Judgment that those on his left hand will be told, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matt. 25:41 NKJV)
Let me tell you a little story right here. I stopped writing awhile ago and made a trip to the store. I had the radio on and it just so happened there was a preacher on telling about another preacher who said that in their congregation they did not believe God would punish anyone. They did not believe in a God like that. What good does a Bible do a group of people like that? Does it remind you of the people in Isaiah’s day? Christianity is just a joke among people like that for how do you make a claim of being a believer, a believer in Christ, and hardly believe a word he says?
We have to remember it does not have to end this way for the sinner. God “is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9 NKJV) God would have “all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim. 2:4 NKJV) That is why Christ was sent into the world and is what the cross is all about. Nevertheless, if one remains rebellious there will be a penalty to be paid.
In conclusion while the book of Isaiah was not written directly to us today we can, nevertheless, learn a great deal from it and we ought to do that. The first chapter tells us a lot about God. If you are concerned about having a correct relationship with God then read and study Isaiah chapter 1. It will help you.