The prophecy of Isaiah begins with a spiritual diagnosis of Judah and Jerusalem. Life was good in Judah. The nation would have ranked high on the quality of life index. She was earning positive marks according to a superficial assessment of social, economic, political, and religious metrics. The growing Assyrian empire was a distant concern, but otherwise, there was grain and wine and oil, and the priests were busy in the temple.
The prophet’s spiritual assessment tells a different story. Yahweh had claimed the people of Judah as his own children and called them to be a holy nation, but they had become a “sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly!” (Isaiah 1:4) Yes, they had kept up with religious rituals. The temple was a flurry of activity, with continual sacrifices and prayers being offered up to Yahweh, but the whole thing was a liturgical masquerade (Isaiah 10:10-15). The offerings were vain and offensive to Yahweh. The incense and prayers were an abomination. Yahweh rejected their worship. Why? He answers, “I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly” (Isaiah 1:13). The iniquity is named, “they do not bring justice to the fatherless, and the widow’s cause does not come to them” (Isaiah 1:24). The Lord of Hosts will not tolerate the feigned worship of a people who deny justice to the fatherless and ignore the widow.
In our day, this means our Lord rejects the worship of churches that deny justice to the unborn and ignore the care of the elderly: “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.” (Isaiah 1:15) The Lord “cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.” Our love for God and our love for our neighbour are inextricably bound. Right worship and right living cannot be separated. Thus, the Lord rebukes us, “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:15-16). Faithfulness on Sundays must never be disconnected from faithfulness Monday to Saturday. Pleading the widow’s cause and praising our God go together
The Lord rebukes us: “How the faithful city has become a whore, she who was full of justice. Righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers.” (Isaiah 1:21) But the Lord also promises us: “Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city” (Isaiah 1:26). This restoration is the Lord’s work. He washes us and makes us clean: “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.” (Isaiah 1:18) It’s the blood of Jesus, God’s Son, which cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7). Having been cleansed, let’s now worship him with integrity, lifting up clean hands. Let’s learn to do good, seek justice, correction oppression, bring justice to the fatherless, and plead the widow’s cause.