Isaiah 1:10-20 Prophets Exgesis

Prophets: Minor Exegesis

Pericope: Isaiah 1:10-20 (RSV)

[10] Hear the word of the LORD,
you rulers of Sodom!
Give ear to the teaching of our God,
you people of Gomor’rah!
[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 fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of he-goats.
[12] “When you come to appear before me,
who requires 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 assemblies —
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 forth 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 doings
from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
[17] learn to do good;
seek justice,
correct oppression;
defend the fatherless,
plead for the widow.
[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 devoured by the sword;
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

The book of Isaiah is a collection of the prophetic oracles delivered by Isaiah from God to the Southern Kingdom of Judah.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–> It may be broken up into a first section containing pre-exilic oracles (which are therefore mainly concerned with warning the people about the dire future that awaits them if they do not repent), and a second, exilic section, which provides words of hope to the distraught nation wandering in exile.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[2]<!–[endif]–> The pericope in question comes at the book’s opening, immediately revealing the moral and liturgical problems that Isaiah is most concerned about. This condemnation of hypocrisy by the author and the call to repentance will be explored in this essay.
Isaiah, as a prophet, is sent to speak God’s word, which, by virtue of it being God’s, demands to be heard and obeyed. The whole of Judah, both the leaders and the people,<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[3]<!–[endif]–>are compared to Sodom and Gomorrah, an often-utilised example of the most depraved wickedness.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[4]<!–[endif]–>This accusatory speech is interlaced with calls to listen to God’s word.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[5]<!–[endif]–>The implication is that if they do not listen, as Sodom and Gomorrah did not, then they will suffer the same fate.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[6]<!–[endif]–> The phrase “says the Lord” is used to signal a change in focus,<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[7]<!–[endif]–>such that it is clear that God still speaks, and also to clearly separate the different points that He is making.
The author goes on to denounce the people’s insincere worship. The verses prior to the pericope make it clear that they have forsaken God.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[8]<!–[endif]–> As a result, their sacrifices are worth nothing to God;<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[9]<!–[endif]–> he has had enough of them, and does not delight in them.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[10]<!–[endif]–> They are therefore in vain.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[11]<!–[endif]–> Appearing before the Lord likely refers to formal worship of God in the temple, because it is associated with the “courts” mentioned in the next line.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[12]<!–[endif]–>,<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[13]<!–[endif]–>The idea of “trampling” suggests a dismissive assertion of authority;<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[14]<!–[endif]–>hence, the people are simultaneously rejecting God’s authority in their lives whilst insincerely going through the motions of “worshipping” Him. The feasts and Sabbaths associated with the offering of these sacrifices have become equally burdensome to the Lord.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[15]<!–[endif]–> Such falsehood when engaged in what ought to be one’s first and most seriously carried out duty is clearly shown to be displeasing to God.
Judah’s worship is spurious because there is a discrepancy between the worship and their lives. To worship God in the temple and subsequently ignore the plight of the most vulnerable is a blatant contradiction. God delights in “steadfast love, justice and righteousness,”<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[16]<!–[endif]–>more than in burnt offerings,<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[17]<!–[endif]–>and so when the heart is not rightly oriented, one’s sacrifices will be unacceptable, as they are here. This is seen in the fact that God has to spell it out for them: “cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.”<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[18]<!–[endif]–> Additionally, in earlier verses, Judah is harshly denounced as “a sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, sons who deal corruptly!”<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[19]<!–[endif]–> The connection between liturgy and life is seen in verses 13 and 15: although they spread forth their hands (in worship)<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[20]<!–[endif]–>and make many prayers, since those hands are full of blood,<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[21]<!–[endif]–>God will not listen, because He cannot endure “iniquity and solemn assembly”,<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[22]<!–[endif]–>that is, worship in the state of wilful sin. It is said that their sins are like scarlet and red like crimson,<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[23]<!–[endif]–>which were the colours worn by royalty.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[24]<!–[endif]–>This is possibly trying to convey the notion that their sins are of a “royal” magnitude; that is, their sins are extremely grave.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[25]<!–[endif]–>The gravity of Judah’s position is thus made clear: the way they are living is completely contrary to God’s wishes, and remaining so will have significantly dire consequences.
Isaiah does not, however, leave Judah without hope. God is always ready to forgive His people,<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[26]<!–[endif]–>but He cannot unless they do their part: truly repent and change their life. And so He calls them to wash and become clean,<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[27]<!–[endif]–>both of their blood-stained hands and their scarlet sins. These sins will then become white like wool and snow.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[28]<!–[endif]–>The scarcity of snow in their land means that this cleanliness will be of a particularly rare, pure whiteness.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[29]<!–[endif]–>He tells them that if they willingly obey, they will prosper,<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[30]<!–[endif]–>but if they rebelliously refuse, they shall be “devoured by the sword”, meaning they shall be attacked.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[31]<!–[endif]–>But all the while, God doesn’t ever lose sight of their covenantal relationship. He doesn’t order His people around with no respect for their freedom and dignity; He says, “Come now, let us reason together.”<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[32]<!–[endif]–>The Hebrew word here translated as reason can also mean to argue, reprove, rebuke or dispute,<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[33]<!–[endif]–>which gives rise to the New Jerusalem translation’s rendering: “let us talk this over.” God wants to lovingly discuss the problems with His people, and to help them see that this way of living is not what will give them the fullness of a human life as He intended it.
Through the allegorical sense we see the inability of humanity to live out either perfect justice or perfect worship, in contrast to the sinless Christ’s perfect sacrifice,<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[34]<!–[endif]–>which has the infinite value able to wash all people’s scarlet sins away, making them white as snow in baptism.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[35]<!–[endif]–>The moral sense adjures us to work for justice in our own time, particularly through the works of mercy as given to us by Jesus,<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[36]<!–[endif]–>lest our own worship of God be just as futile, by being like the hypocrites so condemned by Jesus.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[37]<!–[endif]–>  Since such injustice coexisting with worship is not God’s will, in the anagogical sense we can see that heaven will be the precise contrary- the Church will live in communion with God in complete charity,<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[38]<!–[endif]–>worshipping God perfectly. In conclusion, this text draws attention to God’s distaste for hypocrisy in His people, whom He expects to listen to His word, repent, and be transformed by His love, such that their whole beings, both hearts and actions, are engaged in true worship of Him.


REFERENCE LIST:
Casciaro, Jose Maria (Ed.), The Navarre Bible- The Major Prophets (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2005)
Hahn, Scott (ed.), Catholic Bible Dictionary(New York: Doubleday Religion, 2009)
The Holy Bible Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)

Wigram, George V., The Englishman’s Hebrew Concordance of the Old Testament(Hendrickson Publishers: Massachusetts, 1874)


BIBLIOGRAPHY:
Boadt, Lawrence, Reading the Old Testament- an Introduction (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1984)
Casciaro, Jose Maria (Ed.), The Navarre Bible- The Major Prophets (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2005)

Hahn, Scott (ed.), Catholic Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday Religion, 2009)
The Catholic Bible Concordance Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition C.W. Lyons and Thomas Deliduka (compilers) (Steubenville: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2009)
The Holy Bible Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)
The New Jerusalem Bible Study Edition (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1994)
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<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–> Is. 1:1 (Unless otherwise noted, all references from the Bible will be from the Revised Standard Version); Scott Hahn, Catholic Bible Dictionary, p.399; Although Israel could also refer to the northern kingdom, when it is used in Isaiah (as in Is. 1:3, for example) it is generally referring to Judah, since Isaiah was prophesying in the southern kingdom while others prophesied in the north. Phrases like “the Holy One of Israel”, however, likely refer to the people as a whole.
<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[2]<!–[endif]–> Jose Maria Casciaro (Ed.), The Navarre Bible- The Major Prophets, pp. 29- 30
<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[4]<!–[endif]–>Hahn, Catholic Bible Dictionary, p.861
<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[5]<!–[endif]–> Is. 1:10: “Hear the word of the LORD… give ear to the teaching of our God.”
<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[6]<!–[endif]–> From verse 9 it seems they have either come close to this already, or that some future catastrophe will bring them to it
<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[9]<!–[endif]–> Is. 1:11- The rhetorical question implies they are nothing to Him
<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[12]<!–[endif]–>E.g. 1 Chr. 28:6; Zech. 3:7; Jer. 19:14, 26:2, 36:10
<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[13]<!–[endif]–> “Appearing before the Lord” or letting one’s cry come before the Lord seem to refer to formal worship or prayer both in the temple and elsewhere, such as in Lev.15:14; 1 Chr. 16:29; Ps. 88:2, 119:169-170; Ez. 46:9; Micah. 6:6
<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[14]<!–[endif]–>E.g. Ps. 56:1-2, 91:13; Is. 5:5, 14:25, 16:4, 41:2,25; Amos 8:4, etc.
<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[18]<!–[endif]–>Is. 16-17; furthermore, later Isaiah says explicitly “Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not defend the fatherless, and the widow’s cause does not come to them.” Is. 1:23
<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[20]<!–[endif]–>As in 1 Kgs. 8:22,38,54; 2 Chr. 6:12-13; Ps. 44:20   
<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[21]<!–[endif]–> Presumably of the people suffering as a result of the injustice
<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[24]<!–[endif]–>Hahn, Catholic Bible Dictionary, p.225
<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[25]<!–[endif]–> Red also evokes images of blood, mentioned earlier. It could also be referring specifically to the sins of the royal leaders, but it is unlikely to be this particular, since the rebukes are directed at Judah as a whole
<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[28]<!–[endif]–>Is. 1:18              
<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[29]<!–[endif]–>Hahn, Catholic Bible Dictionary, p.860
<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[33]<!–[endif]–> George V. Wigram, The Englishman’s Hebrew Concordance of the Old Testament, p. 525
<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[35]<!–[endif]–> Acts 22:16; 1 Cor. 6:11; Eph. 5:26; Heb. 10:22; Rev. 7:14
<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[37]<!–[endif]–> Mt. 23; Christ in fact quotes Is. 29:13 in Mt. 15:17- “this people… honour me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me.”
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