As I began preaching through the book of Isaiah I quickly realized that I needed to make an important decision regarding how to interpret the judgment that Isaiah says is coming.
(The sin): “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.” Isaiah 1:4
(The judgment for the sin): “but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” Isaiah 1:19
I believe that modern Christians have, in many instances, assumed that when we apply texts like these to our world today it is a judgment against the nation of America. It is easy to understand their logic. America is just like the nation of Israel in the year 740 BC, sinful.
Here is the big problem. The judgment in Isaiah is not against “pagan culture”. The judgment is against God’s covenant people.
Consider what God says in 1:11. “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.” Isaiah 1:11
The judgment in Isaiah’s day was against God’s people for putting on a religious show yet their hearts were far from God. To apply this text today would mean that the church has to take a long hard look at themselves first, repent and again seek him with all of their heart.
Big deal you say? What difference does this little hermeneutical discussion make in regards to every day life?
The primary indictment against Israel and Judah in the book of Isaiah was that they were not pursuing mercy and justice. Are we? Or have we fallen into a religious routine that is primarily about getting our needs met and making our life better? Are we (the church, Christians) known as a people who care for the marginalized, oppressed, poor, vulnerable or are we spending more time being angry, judgmental and right? A lot of it has to do with how you interpret the prophets in the Old Testament.
“Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless; plead the widow’s cause.” Isaiah 1:17