Overview of Isaiah 1-5
These first few chapters set the scene for Isaiah’s prophecy. Isaiah’s primary audience is the southern kingdom, Judah and Jerusalem, and he ministers during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah,who were all kings of Judah (Isaiah 1:1). In these first five chapters, we see proclamations of judgment and hope. The Lord declares that He is sick of their offerings - they make sacrifices, but their hearts are far from God. They have rebelled against Him and have chosen to follow the ways of the world and to worship foreign gods. Isaiah even compares Judah to a vineyard carefully tended by the Lord Himself - and yet this vineyard has produced wild grapes and rotten fruit. Judgment is on the horizon for the house of Jacob which has refused to heed the word of the Lord. But there is hope. Isaiah calls the people to come to the Lord and to repent. He also calls the people to hope in the Lord, reminding them that one day, God will send a Righteous Branch, a Savior from the line of Jesse, who will wash away all of their sin.
The ministry of the prophet Isaiah spanned a significant period of time, and is normally divided into three sections, First Isaiah (1-39), Second Isaiah (40-55), and Third Isaiah (56-66). This first section addresses the situation in Israel prior to the exile of God’s people into Babylon and offers explanation as to why such a fate came upon the nation of Israel.
The name Isaiah means “God is my salvation,” and points to how any hope of deliverance lies with God alone. While we can distance ourselves from God through our acts of transgressions, we can never do enough to reconcile ourselves to God; we are utterly dependent upon His lovingkindness toward us and His faithfulness never to give up on His people.
The first chapter sets the stage for the initial phase of Isaiah’s ministry, which can be dated to the eighth century BC. The context is a courtroom scene, where God has brought His people to court and has leveled against them serious charges of rebellion. There is no part of Israel that has not been affected by sin. “The whole head is sick and the whole heart faint; from the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it” (Isaiah 1:5-6).
While Israel might counter that there are still evidences of her faithfulness through acts of sacrifice and ritual offerings, God sees these acts as hypocritical (Isaiah 1:10-17). In His eyes, they only add to Israel’s guilt.God is not pleased with this situation. He instead laments her transgression and longs for the day when Israel will be reconciled to a place of righteousness (Isaiah 1:21-31).
We share in Israel’s tendency to allow our acts of worship to substitute for a heartfelt relationship with God. On the outside everything looks fine, but too often what’s in our hearts is not pleasing to God. This chapter reminds us that God will not overlook such rebellion but will call us to account. But God’s justice is never anything to be feared ultimately. Regardless of how far we may have strayed, God is ever at work to bring us back into fellowship with Him. Our rebellion, therefore, is met by God’s steadfast love and unconditional grace.
Isaiah 1 (ESV):
1 The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
2 Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth;
for the Lord has spoken:
“Children have I reared and brought up,
but they have rebelled against me.
3 The ox knows its owner,
and the donkey its master's crib,
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand.”
4 Ah, sinful nation,
a people laden with iniquity,
offspring of evildoers,
children who deal corruptly!
They have forsaken the Lord,
they have despised the Holy One of Israel,
they are utterly estranged.
5 Why will you still be struck down?
Why will you continue to rebel?
The whole head is sick,
and the whole heart faint.
6 From the sole of the foot even to the head,
there is no soundness in it,
but bruises and sores
and raw wounds;
they are not pressed out or bound up
or softened with oil.
7 Your country lies desolate;
your cities are burned with fire;
in your very presence
foreigners devour your land;
it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners.
8 And the daughter of Zion is left
like a booth in a vineyard,
like a lodge in a cucumber field,
like a besieged city.
9 If the Lord of hosts
had not left us a few survivors,
we should have been like Sodom,
and become like Gomorrah.
10 Hear the word of the Lord,
you rulers of Sodom!
Give ear to the teaching of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
11 “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of well-fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats.
12 “When you come to appear before me,
who has required of you
this trampling of my courts?
13 Bring no more vain offerings;
incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—
I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts
my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.
16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
17 learn to do good;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow's cause.
18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
you shall eat the good of the land;
20 but if you refuse and rebel,
you shall be eaten by the sword;
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
21 How the faithful city
has become a whore,
she who was full of justice!
Righteousness lodged in her,
but now murderers.
22 Your silver has become dross,
your best wine mixed with water.
23 Your princes are rebels
and companions of thieves.
Everyone loves a bribe
and runs after gifts.
They do not bring justice to the fatherless,
and the widow's cause does not come to them.
24 Therefore the Lord declares,
the Lord of hosts,
the Mighty One of Israel:
“Ah, I will get relief from my enemies
and avenge myself on my foes.
25 I will turn my hand against you
and will smelt away your dross as with lye
and remove all your alloy.
26 And I will restore your judges as at the first,
and your counselors as at the beginning.
Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness,
the faithful city.”
27 Zion shall be redeemed by justice,
and those in her who repent, by righteousness.
28 But rebels and sinners shall be broken together,
and those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed.
29 For they shall be ashamed of the oaks
that you desired;
and you shall blush for the gardens
that you have chosen.
30 For you shall be like an oak
whose leaf withers,
and like a garden without water.
31 And the strong shall become tinder,
and his work a spark,
and both of them shall burn together,
with none to quench them.