OBEDIENCE RATHER THAN SACRIFICE (Isaiah 1:10-20)
Good afternoon church family and friends. About two years ago I was working through my studies to earn my degree with Liberty University towards my Divinity Degree. In my studies I came across this passage in the class I took regarding the Old Testament Prophetic book of Isaiah. I wanted to share some thoughts with you regarding the above-mentioned passage. Hope you are all doing well! Have a great day! Pastor Jared (PJ)
In our lesson today from the first chapter of Isaiah we are going to learn that being obedient to God requires much more than just an outer showing of that obedience through the carrying out of the commandments of God. Many times as Christians we feel that we can make ourselves look holy and righteous in the eyes of God if we only do the things that He commands. As we will see in this passage, God desires more of us than just following His commands in our actions. God wants a changed heart where those who honor Him do so not because they want to earn His favor by their deeds, the desire to please God comes from a heart that wants to please God out of a love and devotion to Him in thankfulness of what He has done for us. As we will also see, God desires a repentant heart who wants to please Him by repenting of sin and making the choice to follow His ways because we know that He only wants the best for us. Finally, as God promises the people of Israel in the book of Isaiah, God will restore His creation through the coming of Christ and He promises to bring about a day when all suffering will end and He will rule the earth in righteousness.
- Only showing outward signs of obedience to God, but not loving Him inside, makes a believer in God no different than the pagan nations. (vv. 10-15)
In the first five verses of the chapter Isaiah begins to discuss the reasons why God has decided to reject the people of Israel and the sacrifices they were making to Him. Under the old covenant God established a sacrificial system that was to help prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah, who would atone for the sins of all mankind. In order to prepare them for this He established for them a sacrificial system so that they could learn of the laws and expectations that God had for them so that they could live as His holy nation and be an example to the other nations. Rather than choose to live as a holy nation, the Bible shows us that Israel chose to rebel against God and they began to worship the false Gods in the Promised Land. When this happened, God told the people that they would lose His blessing if they did not repent and come back to Him. The people thought that they could worship the Baals and the other gods of the land as well as the Lord at the same time. As the other gods accepted sacrifices to appease them the children of Israel thought that if they continued to do the sacrifices as commanded in the law they could keep God happy and secure His blessings. What they are told in verses 10-15 is that God had become tired of the sacrifices and recognition of the feasts because what they had become was nothing more that outward actions trying to show a devotion to God that they did not have in their hearts.
To make this argument even stronger Isaiah writes that God equates the nations of Israel and Judah as the same as Sodom and Gomorrah in verse 10. Even though the people are showing their devotion to God through sacrifices, their hearts are really not with Him. The sacrificing of animals does not please God. It is a heart of repentance and a devotion to God that He desires. This is why Isaiah tells the people in verse 15 that when they raise their hands to God He will hide His eyes from them. They have become a wicked and violent people who no longer lead the other nations in the way of the Lord, therefore God is no longer hearing their cries. What we learn from this first section of the passage is that the Lord wants devotion and repentance of the heart, not only outward expressions on obedience.
II. To be righteous in the eyes of God the sinner must recognize his sin, but also wash himself by changing his ways in obedience to God (vv. 16-17).
Building upon the foundation we have established in vv. 10-15 above, we now turn to the part of the passage where God is instructing His people how they may restore their relationship with Him. The first action He calls them to do is “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean.” In order to understand this command better we need to look at the entirety of verse 16 to see how God says the people will be able to do this. Washing themselves clean was to be done by putting away their evil deeds and learning to do good, which God says is shown in four ways.
The first way to do good is to seek justice. As with any governmental system, the Israelites had a system in place where there was a lot of bribery and other kinds of corruption taking place. This was extremely upsetting to God because it was He who had established the kingdom that the people wanted when they asked for a king. Even though Samuel warned the people that the kings would eventually burden them with taxes and some would rule against the will of God, the people still wanted to be like the nations around them. To seek justice means that the people are to extend the justice of God in their governmental system, which needed reform.
The second way to learn to do good is to “rebuke the oppressor” (1:17). The nation of Israel was dealing with other nations who were going to invade them in order to take them off into captivity as part of the judgment of God. This government, which had officials who were oppressing the poor, needed reform by removing those who are serving the role as oppressors. God is calling the righteous remnant among the people to call out those who were oppressing others and bring them to justice. This is exactly what we must do as Christians in our culture today. When we see evil, we are called to be a witness for Christ and rebuke those who are oppressing our brothers and sisters in the faith.
The third and fourth actions are going to be looked at together because God is calling the people to “defend the fatherless (orphans)” and “plead for the widow. The rich leaders in the government at that time were taking bribes, unlawfully placing hard tax burdens on the poor and those who could not afford to pay. God was angry that the law He gave the people had been used to unfairly punish those who were to be protected under it. As was mentioned earlier, the righteous in the kingdom are called by God to stand up against the corrupt system and work to restore it to the system that God had established in the law. The prophet Isaiah was using his opportunities with the king to make this known before they were invaded so that the people might repent and be restored. Unfortunately the people waited too long to repent and the judgment of God was coming upon them. We, as the church of Christ, must stand up for those in our communities who are being oppressed and mistreated by either the government or others in the community. If we do not defend the widow and the orphan, then who else will do it? This is not to be done just to please God, but to show Him that we appreciate the way He took all of us who are unworthy and made us a part of His family through the sacrifice of Christ.
III. Remaining righteous in the eyes of God finally requires the understanding that forgiveness is still available, but sinners must respond with repentance and obedience (vv. 18-20).
The final section of the passage serves as the restoration part of the teaching. When God sent His word through the prophets He always does three things in His teaching. He reminds the people of who He is and what He has done for them, He tells them of their sins and what they have done that has violated their covenant with Him, but thirdly He always provides the good news of the restoration that He will provide to them in the future. In vv. 18-20 God is telling the people that if they reject evil and learn to do what is good, He will forgive their sins and let them eat from the goodness of the land. However, He reminds them that rebellion will lead to disaster.
What this promise provides us as Christians is the assurance that if we live in accordance with the teachings of Christ not only will our lives be richer and fuller, but we will also have an eternal blessing that cannot be taken away. The purity of the snow and the wool referred to in verse 18 tells the people that a time is coming when God will remember their sin no more and they will be made perfect in His sight. As all Christians already know this is the promise fulfilled in Christ. His sacrifice has made the vilest of sinners able to be forgiven and appear perfect before holy God. Not only has the blood of Christ made man pure in God’s eyes, but it has also provided the opportunity for man to be able to be in the presence of God for all of eternity. Sinful man cannot stand in the presence of God and live, but the fact that Christ paid the atoning sacrifice for the sins of man, mankind can now appear before Him and be seen as pure. When God sees sinful man, He can now see Christ if the person has accepted Christ to be His Savior.
As the passage finishes in verse 20, we can see that the message God had for the Israelites back then is still the same message He gives us today. Man has been given a choice, he can accept the salvation Christ offers and with that receive the blessings of God or he can reject that salvation and choose to live in rebellion. That choice results in what God says through Isaiah, man will be devoured by the sword if he rejects Christ.
As we conclude our study of this passage let us consider what God is telling the people of Isaiah’s day as well as us living as Christians in a culture that is becoming more hostile to the faith daily. God wants us to be bold in our faith and tell others of the hope that we have in Him (1 Pet. 3:15). Not only does He call us to be bold, but we are to also stand up to those who oppress our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. In order to stand up to these oppressors we must do so in a way that shows the love of Christ, but also in a non-compromising fashion so that those who are oppressing know we are willing to put it all on the line for Christ. We are promised in this passage that if we love God with our hearts and not just practice godly deeds to be recognized by others, we will show others who God is and through those deeds bring honor and glory to Him alone. If our only desire is for others to see what we do to gain their adoration, God will not bless such behavior and reminds us that such an attitude is not acceptable to Him. A Christian is not only a Christian because of what He does, he is also a faithful Christian when he loves God with his heart and tries his best, even though he will fall, to honor God both through his thoughts and actions.
 Robert B. Chisholm, Handbook on the Prophets, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 16.
 William MacDonald, Believers Bible Commentary, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 941.
 Chisholm, 17.
 John F. Walvoord & Roy B. Zuck, eds., The Bible Knowledge Commentary, (Victor Books, 1987), 1036.