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Isaiah I - Summary: Corruption of Judah (1:1-31)

Julian Spriggs M.A.

Related articles

Interpreting OT Prophets How prophets see their future
Syria / Aram The Assyrian empire
The Babylonian empire Syro-Ephraimite war
Assyrian invasion - 701 BC Dates of kings of Judah and Israel
The fall of Satan? Introduction to Isaiah

Commentary

I: Corruption of Judah (1:1-31) II: Sins of Judah (2:1 - 5:30)
III: Isaiah's Vision and Call (6:1-13) IV: Book of Immanuel (7:1 - 12:6)
V: Prophecies to the Nations (13:1 - 23:18) VI: The Day of the Lord (24:1 - 27:13)
VII: Folly of Trusting Egypt (28:1 - 33:24) VIII: The Choice: Desert or Garden (34:1 - 35:10)
IX: Historical Section - Assyria/Babylon (36:1 - 39:8) X: Book of Comfort - Introduction (40:1 - 66:24)
XI: Deliverance from Babylon by Cyrus (40:1 - 48:22) XII: Salvation through God's Servant (49:1 - 55:13)
XIII: Glorious Restoration of Zion (56:1 - 66:24)

Superscription (1:1)

The Book of Isaiah begins with the standard superscription found in many prophetical books, to identify the prophet, the kingdom he prophesied to, and the kings reigning at the time. This gives us the date and setting of Isaiah’s ministry. Isaiah saw a vision of God and received his call to be a prophet in the year that Uzziah died (740 BC) (6:1). His ministry continued through the short reign of Jotham, although no mention is made of him in the book. Chapters 7-12 are set during the reign of Ahaz (735-715) (7:1), with the oracle to the Philistines given in the year Ahaz died (14:28). Much of the rest of the material in the book was given during the reign of Hezekiah, particularly surrounding the events of 701 BC. It is possible that Isaiah’s ministry continued into the reign of Manasseh (696 - 642 BC), if it is true that he was martyred during his reign.

According to Jewish tradition, Amoz, the father of Isaiah was the brother of king Amaziah, the father of Uzziah (Talmud: Megilla 10b). This would mean that Isaiah was a cousin of Uzziah, and part of the extended royal family, which would explain how he was able to have access to kings like Ahaz and Hezekiah.

The corruption of Judah (1:2-31)

Chapters one to five form an introduction to the book, summarising the message of Isaiah, before his call is described in chapter six. By contrast, the vision of God and calls of Jeremiah and Ezekiel to be prophets are both placed at the beginning of their books. This fits the wider pattern of the Book of Isaiah, that there is less about the prophet himself, and more emphasis on his message, especially when compared with Jeremiah with its lengthy narrative sections.

The first chapter introduces the introduction, giving a preview and summary of Isaiah’s message. There is a second superscription at the beginning of chapter two. This summary contains many of the themes found in the rest of the book. Isaiah uses the imagery of a courtroom scene and use of a lawsuit because the people are rebelling against God by worshipping idols, or pursuing the folly of empty religiosity. The leadership of the nation is corrupt, so justice is necessary and inevitable. Judgement will come unless people repent and turn again to the Lord, but there is hope for redemption and restoration.

Isaiah is proclaiming a new age of transformation, inviting a remnant from the people to prepare for the coming of a great king. He calls for the old community to turn away from the old and perishable structures of human kingdoms, and to await the new, imperishable structures of God’s kingdom.

Like Isaiah personally (ch 6), the new community are set apart by God’s cleansing, forgiveness and consecration to God’s service. Their qualities are humility, love of justice, righteousness and peace. These are what he later calls the 'stumps' (6:13), the holy seed of the new era of salvation. Isaiah describes the old community as foolish children (1:4), a rebellious city (1:21), and an unproductive vineyard (ch 5).

Outline

a. Charge against Israel: My children rebelled against me (1:2-9)
b. Justice not empty ritual (1:10-17)
c. Scarlet sins will be like snow (1:18-20)
d. Wrath on adultery of impure city (1:21-26)
e. Zion redeemed by justice (1:27-31)

a. Charge against Israel: My children rebelled against me (1:2-9)

Isaiah’s message begins with a charge against Israel because they have forsaken the covenant. First God speaks in a monologue, expressing his personal thoughts (v2-3). Using covenant language, he calls witnesses (Deut 30:19, 32:1), and as in Hosea (11:1), he uses a picture of a father who has trained up his children in the right way, but who have rebelled. His children, Israel, do not even have the sense of domestic animals that know their master and their way home.

God continues in a lament, describing Judah as both a nation and children (v4-6). Because of their idolatry, they had forsaken the Lord and were utterly estranged from him. They had been disciplined by their father, Yahweh, but had not responded to that discipline. Their rebellion has resulted in the covenant curses (Deut 28:15-68), particularly invasion by enemies and natural disasters, leaving the nation with bruises and sores, but they had not responded. The image of their bleeding wounds causes us to look forward to the bleeding servant (53:5), who will be the ultimate cure for their rebellion.

Israel lies destroyed by enemy invasion (v7-9). The country is desolate, the cities burned, and daughter Zion left like a shack in the fields. This does not fit the time of Uzziah, but is probably looking to the future when the land will be devastated by the Assyrians, particularly the invasion by Sennacherib (701 BC), which is the historical event that dominates the first half of the book (and described in chapters 36-37). In Hebrew poetry, 'daughter' is often a reference to smaller settlements or villages, so 'daughter Zion' probably refers to the whole city of Jerusalem, rather than the heart of the city around the temple and palace, known as Zion. It also maintains the description of Israel as God’s child.

Isaiah then adds his own comment (v9). The speech changes to the first person, as Isaiah identifies himself with the nation under judgement. Through the mercy of God, some survivors are left, otherwise Israel would be totally destroyed forever, like Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19). This is the first time that the important remnant theme is introduced, to describe the future hope beyond judgement. Paul quotes this verse in Romans 9:29 to show that although the majority of the Jews remain in unbelief, and that Gentiles will also be included in the people of God (v25-26), a remnant of the Jews will be saved. God will not allow Israel to be totally destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah.

b. Justice not empty ritual (1:10-17)

Shockingly, he now addresses the rulers of Jerusalem as the rulers of Sodom and Gomorrah (v10), which links back to the previous paragraph. Both are guilty of the same sins.

Like Jeremiah in his temple sermon (Jer 7), Isaiah rebukes those who put their trust in religious activity (v11-15). It was not enough to go and worship in the temple, while ignoring the righteousness demanded by the covenant. We should notice the sarcasm as God rebukes them. Empty religious activity is an abomination to God. Even though all these offerings and festivals were originally commanded by God in the law of Moses, they burden and weary God, and so he will not listen to their prayers.

Instead of religious activity, God wants ethical purity (v16-17). Through a long list of commands, God shows he wants true righteousness to be expressed in concern for the poor and needy, because the leaders of Israel were guilty of oppressing the poor. Religious activity is not the response Yahweh wants to his discipline.

c. Scarlet sins will be like snow (1:18-20)

In a note of hope, God invites them to respond in obedience and submission (v18-20). His grace is there if they are willing to repent. They have a choice to make. If they return to obedience to the covenant, then they will receive the blessings of the covenant and their sins will be wiped clean (v19). If they refuse, and continue in their rebellion, they will experiences the curses of judgement (v20).

d. Wrath on adultery of impure city (1:21-26)

Led by their leaders, the people of Jerusalem and Judah were falling deeply in to adultery and impurity (v21-23). The city that was founded on justice and righteousness has become a prostitute. Spiritual adultery is a common theme of the prophets. Israel was married to the Lord through the covenant, so to worship other gods was adultery. The leaders rebel against God (1:2), receive bribes and do not defend the widows and orphans.

We should also notice the connection between the worship of idols and lack of social justice. This is a common theme in Isaiah (29:17-21, 46:5-13, 48:17f, 56:9 - 57:12) and the rest of the prophets (Jer 23:13f, Ezek 16:47-52, Hos 4:1-14, Amos 2:6-8, Mal 3:5). If the people are not trusting in a loving and fair God, the result is social injustice. If people are motivated by greed, and seek to control their world through the control of spiritual forces (idolatry), then the weak and vulnerable will be crushed.

God promises to judge his enemies and purify his people through a purging, using the imagery of purification of metals (v24-26). Just leaders will be restored, as in the past (like Deborah and Samuel), so the city becomes a place of righteousness.

e. Zion redeemed by justice (1:27-31)

Israel will be purified and restored, but rebels will be judged. The remnant who repent will be saved, but those who break the covenant will perish in God’s fire. In the purge, false worship will be stopped. They shall become ashamed over the oaks and gardens. These were the open-air sites for Canaanite fertility rituals. They will become symbols of the nation’s decline and apostasy.

Prev - Isaiah Intro Next - Isaiah II

Related articles

Interpreting OT Prophets How prophets see their future
Syria / Aram The Assyrian empire
The Babylonian empire Syro-Ephraimite war
Assyrian invasion - 701 BC Dates of kings of Judah and Israel
The fall of Satan? Introduction to Isaiah

Commentary

I: Corruption of Judah (1:1-31) II: Sins of Judah (2:1 - 5:30)
III: Isaiah's Vision and Call (6:1-13) IV: Book of Immanuel (7:1 - 12:6)
V: Prophecies to the Nations (13:1 - 23:18) VI: The Day of the Lord (24:1 - 27:13)
VII: Folly of Trusting Egypt (28:1 - 33:24) VIII: The Choice: Desert or Garden (34:1 - 35:10)
IX: Historical Section - Assyria/Babylon (36:1 - 39:8) X: Book of Comfort - Introduction (40:1 - 66:24)
XI: Deliverance from Babylon by Cyrus (40:1 - 48:22) XII: Salvation through God's Servant (49:1 - 55:13)
XIII: Glorious Restoration of Zion (56:1 - 66:24)

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