The opening chapter of Isaiah is God rebuking Israel, the nation of Judah and the city of Jerusalem. He characterizes them as a rebellious child who He has raised, trained and loved to live honorably in the world, but who have instead forsaken Him and his ways to live for themselves and their own impulses.
Isaiah even goes so far as to say the only distinction between Israel and the judged cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, was the mercy of God to spare his own people and preserve for them a remnant. There was nothing in the moral character of Israel that was elevated above those two notoriously evil cities. Which is to say Israel was not moderately idolatrous, or slightly corrupted… she was excessively wicked and altogether ruined spiritually.
There was nothing in Israel by this time, around 720-730 B.C., that embodied what God had made her to be as his people. On the whole, Israel had rejected God and turned her back on him and become like every other darkened earthly kingdom. Perhaps the darkest reality of all, in Jerusalem, was the idea that her retained religious practices, which had long since been divorced from any reality with God, led them to believe that they were still a light to the nations. Their wickedness and godlessness had been masquerading in the fraudulent forms of worship and obedience as if they were a people who honored God.
750 years later, Jesus would point out the particular depth of this kind of incoherence when he said, “If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” That was Israel in the late 8th century B.C. They were utterly blind, yet feeling great about their sharpness of vision. And God is weary of their pretense, and in v. 16-20 he calls them to repentance.
His judgement is real, but it is flanked by his mercy. He is willing to forgive. He is willing to start over. He is willing to welcome them and renew them. He is willing to give himself fully to them and to give them the future He created them and saved them for. God is altogether willing to advance his purposes though them and lavish his blessing upon them. They need to only repent and turn from their wickedness by living into His commands and the culture he established in Israel by his word and his presence.
He is willing to wash them clean and rid them of the stain of their guilt. He is willing cleanse their iniquity and cancel their debt. Israel’s God is willing to do everything he has promised, even still, in spite of their failure to do their part. The question, in v. 19, to them and to us, is this: Are they willing? Are you willing? Am I willing?
The question is not one of our ability to be perfectly obedient to God, but of our willingness to be continually repentant of our disobedience to God. Are we willing to continually walk with God on the basis of repentance for our sin, and renouncing any claim on our own lives. If we are willing to relate to God on the simple terms of repentance and faith, which He has established, then life with God is possible and the blessing of God will still come to us. If however, we want to relate to God on our terms, asking him to simply endorse our agenda, then we will experience life apart from God and all the haunting realities that come with it.
Isaiah continues to paint this picture of bleakness... a misuse and abuse of God's blessing on Israel which has led to a sort of moral degradation, personal deprivation and social desolation. And he's pointing out the embarrassment and shame of actually choosing such things over beauty, flourishing and humaneness, as if to ask, "why would you choose obvious misery and deadness over the joy and life offered by God?" And it's a fair question still facing us today and worthy of our consideration.
God explicitly states that he will yet get the last word. He will deal decisively with His enemies and expose their folly. The obviousness of their evil choices, and the ridiculousness of settling for life on their terms will be laid before them and all people. And the only difference between those who are condemned and those who are redeemed in repentance. We are all of us prone toward the same rebellion and the same self rule and the same rejection of God's glory and God's authority... but those who repent of their pathological sin will be received.
We cannot be perfect. We can be repentant. We will never be righetous on our own. But we can be forgiven by God. For Israel then, as with us now, our standing with God depends on the grace of God which is received through the empty hands of repentance toward God and faith in God.
So Isaiah moves beyond the present darkness in Israel, to a vision of the future possibility for Israel. He is giving us a glimpse into the reality repentance secures for us. Rather than characterizing the deadness of their lives now and calling them out of that into some unknown alternative, Isaiah is giving them and us a glimpse into the better future God has for all those who will turn to him and follow him. This is the better future God is inviting Israel into and which Jesus leads us into if we'll repent and follow him.
Verses 3-4 give us a total reversal of things under the reign and rule of God. If we go together to the mountain of the Lord, their will be a new humanity and a new society where the word of God governs his people and we walk in his ways. And the stark difference between the earthly reality we live in and the future reality GOd promises to us, is that in the same way we create conflict and make war out of anything and everything now, God will resolve all those issues and make peace among us continually.
Instead of using everything as weapons against one another, we will use even weapons as instruments for peace and harmony and creating a better future together. Rather than animosity toward one another in all things, we will walk in unity with God and one another in all things.
The whole world is in violent conflict... inner conflict, relational conflict, civil conflict, legal conflicts, social conflicts, political conflicts, corporate conflicts, international conflicts... all of life is hijacked by and wrecked by conflict. And God, through Isaiah, is inviting us to imagine a future without any of that, where peace and settledness and security and safety replace conflict at every level and in every sphere. And God is telling us that our future is moving toward that reality if we will enter in to life with him on the terms set by him.
Isaiah continues to point forward, beyond the hopelessness and darkness of His own present day, and beyond the brokenness of even our own present day, to what he calls "The Day of the Lord." This is when God finally and fully intervenes to bring history to it's conclusion, to judge all that deviated from his design. And in that day, Isaiah says, God will finally bring low all those whose lives were driven by lofty ideas of humanity and themselves especially.
The essence of sin and rebellion against God, is to live as though we are sufficient to function as gods and have no need for God. Our sinfulness is most obvious in our lofty thoughts of us and our diminished thoughts of God, which God will ultimately expose by bringing us low. And Isaiah is foreshadowing that day, telling us that if we have eyes to see that future reckoning now, they we will begin to repent now.
Rather than waiting for God to humiliate us, we can humble ourselves. Rather than waiting for GOd to shatter our lofty self-importance and bring us low, we can reserve our lofty thoughts for God and take the low place before the Lord today. If we know that God opposes the proud but gives his grace to the humble, than we can resist and root out everything in our lives that nurtures pride and pursue dependence upon God for everything and the worship of God in everything.
What does it look like for you today, to pursue lowliness of heart? To war against self-importance and self-preoccupation? How might you focus your loftiest thoughts and ideas and words toward the God of the Bible and elevate others over yourself? This is, in some sense, the daily, moment-by-moment, Christian preoccupation. So let's live like Christians today. Take the low place, which is the place of blessing.
God continues to foreshadow His judgment which is to come upon Jersualem and Judah. There are different reasons for God's judgement and different images which represent his judgement the one that is compelling to me in Isaiah 3 is related to leadership. I have not studied this passage before and the prophets aren't always easy for me to understand on the surface. Because of the poetic language, it's not obvious to me what passages like these point to. Are they pointing to specific historical events, or general periods of time? Is Isaiah speaking strictly metaphorically or in anyway literally?
I don't just instinctively recognize these things so, some of what I reflect on here may well be misunderstood, but I want to engage with Scripture on different levels and admit that even as a preacher and teacher of God's word, I still feel way out of my depth and like a beginner. That should keep me humble as I come to the Word of God so that I'm dependent upon the Spirit of God to give me wisdom concerning the Truth of God.
Anyway, I am struck by the form of judgement represented in Isaiah 3. Perhaps it's because of the failure and corruption of leaders in Israel in that day, based on v. 14, which tells us that the Lord will judge the elders and princes of his people.
But whatever the case, Isaiah's word from the Lord says, "I will make boys their princes and infants shall rule over them..." (v. 4) And again in v. 12, "My people - infants are their oppressors, and women rule of them."
So God's judgement upon Israel for their leadership corruption, is to give her young, inexperienced, unqualified, impulsive, and presumably foolish leaders. Women and Children are not less than men, but when we're talking about rulers and kings and princes, GOd's blessing comes to his people in the form of wise and understanding leaders who have integrity.
This is not God denouncing all young people or women... and it isn't a theological reason to keep women and young people away from leadership roles. Rather, there is an order to things under heaven, whereby God graces a people or a nation with qualified leaders, most often in the form of wise, discerning, strong men who have character.
Being ruled by infants and oppressed by infants seems to point to a scenario where God gives people over to unqualified, incapable leaders who are out of their depth and who are given responsibility way out of proportion with their maturity. The reason this strikes me today is at the national and ecclesiological levels.
I know that America is not the new Israel and this certainly isn't pointing in any way to our current situation. But it gives me a category for God's judgment coming in the form of immature and unqualified leadership. That seems to be very much the situation in the United States these days. We are celebrating young, foolish, unqualified leaders all the time, elevating them beyond their deserved responsibility and giving them credibiility they have not earned. Even beyond that, some of the older political leaders too walk in such immaturity and lack of integrity that it's easy to see this as God's judgement on us, moreso than God's grace to us. I wonder what this says about where our country is in the life cycle of God's judgement.
In terms of continuity, the Church carries more of the mantel of Israel than any nation in the NT. So it also makes me wonder about the state of the Church. This same category is worth considering carefully in regard to local church leadership, where it's common practice to accelerate youthful and unproven leaders into leadership roles without having developed or demonstrated the character required to lead God's people.
There is certainly a responsibility we have to develop young leaders and to empower them in the right ways at the right times, but I wonder if we are sometimes too eager to do so. Youthful, immature leaders in the church, who lack integrity and are not biblically qualified for their roles, are an indictment on us who are leaders in the church. We must be vigilant in raising up leaders, but wise and cautious in our laying on of hands, particularly with young and unproven leaders, both for their protection and the protection of Jesus' church.
We set up leaders for failure and people for misery when we appoint immature and irresponsible leaders to oversee God's people.