Isaiah chapter 1 is a stinging rebuke of Judah and Israel, not unlike Amos’ indictment. Because of their rebellion they have been struck down, bloodied and besieged. One can palpably sense God’s disappointment, the frustration of a parent who after spanking their child still sees ample evidence the rebellion is not over. The people have “gone to church” and done their perfunctory duties, yet there is still that barrier of defiance at work. Their actions of inequity and attempts to undermine justice have made their sacrifices to God tainted. They are offering leftovers, not true sacrifice. Their physical presence and proximity to God do not match the proximity of their hearts, hearts adrift in loveless meaninglessness. The covenant is likened to a marriage bed. The bride of Israel, unfortunately in its idolatry, is acting more like a paid lover than a yoked partner. The poor are marginalized and taken advantage of, the kings are taking bribes. It was the kings, the powerful ones, who were to blame.
What was the injustice? “Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not bring justice to the fatherless, and the widow’s cause does not come to them” (23). It seems the Lord was angry with his people because the leaders were oppressing the weak, taking bribes to side with the rich and powerful instead of helping the orphan and the widow get their fair shake.
Finally, Isaiah poetically answers back to this injustice with the truth of God’s very different vision of peace, a peace the messiah would bring. It is a vision of shalom, a Hebrew word often translated “peace” but a holistic conception of peace that extends outward and inward to the depths of human wholeness and well being. It was a vision of the nearness of God’ temple, and therefore His presence. A vision of shalom steeped in worship. It was a refreshing vision that drew in the nations and sent out God’s messages faithfully. It was a vision of shalom that transformed implements of death into tools to cultivate life. It was a model to the kings who had been corrupted, a way to show them God’s heart they had wandered from and how the world might look if the roots of oppression were plucked out and cast aside, and God’s holy vision of peace was allowed to prevail.
- Read: Isaiah 1:21-2:5
- Watch: Turning Guns into Garden Tools
- Spend some time in reflection on the following query: Where in my life have I lost my imagination for a world filled with rich shalom? What fears or resentments or reservations are at work in me that unconsciously plant seeds of oppression?