THE BOOK OF ISAIAH
Lesson 2: Chapter 1
Part One: Prophecies of Condemnation
Indictment of Israel and Judah (1:1-5:30)

Most Holy Lord,
We acknowledge that all Christians are called to service in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ that is the Church. We are anointed as candidates for service at our Baptism, and in the Sacrament of Confirmation You equip us with the gifts of the Holy Spirit to take up our mission as adult disciples. The life and works of the prophet Isaiah stand as an example of one who not only answered Your call to service, but one who served with both humility and unflinching courage. Send Your Holy Spirit, Lord, to guide us in our study on the mission of the Prophet Isaiah as he called Your covenant people to repentance and to a return to faithful service as a holy people of the only Holy God. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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... the prophet Isaiah, a great man trustworthy in his vision. In his days the sun moved back; he prolonged the life of the king. In the power of the spirit he saw the last things, he comforted the mourners of Zion, he revealed the future to the end of time, and hidden things long before they happened.
Sirach 48:23-25

We will be using the New Jerusalem Bible translation in our study. It is one of the most faithful translations of the Hebrew Old Testament texts. It is an original translation that is the work of many of the Catholic scholars who worked on the translations of the Dead Sea Scrolls and who gained a deeper understand of the ancient language of the Old Testament. We will check the NJB translation against the Interlineal Bible Hebrew-English for the literal use of certain words (designated IBHE vols. I-III). When other translations are used they will be designated NAB for the New American Bible, or RSV for the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition. Words in brackets indicate the literal Hebrew or Greek translation.

Chapter 1
Title, Historical Setting, and the Indictment against Israel's Covenant Failures

Isaiah 1:1 ~ The Title and the Historical Setting
1 The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz concerning Judah and Jerusalem ...
The title of Isaiah's work is "The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz concerning Judah and Jerusalem..." Isaiah also spoke God's word of judgment against the Northern Kingdom of Israel and other Gentile nations in the region, but the focus of his mission was to the Southern Kingdom of Judah and its Davidic kings. The title also informs the reader of the way God revealed His divine word to Isaiah —through visions.

1b which he received in the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah kings of Judah.
Isaiah 1:1b establishes the historical range of his mission which continued through the reigns of four Davidic kings of Judah. Most the books of the prophets begin by establishing the historical setting with the exception of the books of Joel, Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk and Malachi. Isaiah's ministry began the year of King Uzziah's death in c. 740 BC. While Isaiah's public ministry probably ended in the years prior to the death of King Hezekiah (the last dated event is in the 14th year of Hezekiah in c. 701 BC). King Hezekiah's relationship with Isaiah is recorded in 2 Kings 19:20-20:19. Isaiah's life and the work on his prophetic book probably continued into the reign of Hezekiah's wicked son, King Manasseh (2 Chr 32:32 and Is 37:38 that records an event that took place in c. 681 BC). Isaiah 1:1 is obviously written at the end of his public ministry.

Summary of the history of the four Davidic kings of Judah whose reigns overlapped the years of Isaiah's ministry:

  1. Uzziah (792-740 BC): The reign of Uzziah who is also called Amaziah is recorded in 2 Kings 15:1-7 and 2 Chronicles 26:1-23. He became king when he was only 16 years old. In the beginning he was a good king. In the early years of his reign, he was co-ruler with his father Amaziah and in the later part of his reign was co-ruler with his son Jotham. He had military victories over Judah's enemies the Philistines of Gath and Ashdod and also received tribute from the Ammonites to the east of the Jordan River. He increased the fortifications of Jerusalem, Judah's capital, and maintained a well-trained army. Early in his reign, Uzziah had faithfully followed Yahweh (2 Chr 26:5), but later he became proud and arrogant, and he tried to usurp the priest's prerogatives in burning the sacred incense in the Temple's Holy Place during the daily Tamid worship service. God punished him by striking him with leprosy at the very moment he attempted to offer the incense, and he remained a leper until the day he died. Therefore, he lived the rest of his life in isolation, confined to his rooms and forbidden to attend Temple worship (2 Chr 26:16-20). Isaiah's ministry began the year of Uzziah's death in 740 BC.
  2. Jotham son of Uzziah (740-736 BC): He ruled Judah as the co-ruler with his father for 11 years after Uzziah became a leper until his father's death. Overall he was a good king (2 Kng 15:32-38; 2 Chr 27:1-9). Spiritually he remained loyal to Yahweh, but unfortunately his people did not follow his example. He strengthened Judah's position in the region by establishing fortifications and watchtowers in Judah's hill country and by subduing the Ammonites and receiving tribute from them. It was during his reign that Tiglath-Pileser III, who became the king of Assyria five years before Jotham became the sole ruler, began his expansion policies in conquering nations and deporting their people (745 BC).
  3. Ahaz son of Jotham (736-716 BC): Ahaz was an evil and idolatrous king (2 Kng 16:1-20; 2 Chr 28:1-27). He offered sacrifices to pagan gods and also reinstituted the practice of human sacrifice by offering his own son to burn alive in the Canaanite practice of child sacrifice to Baal/Molech in the Hinnom Valley south of Jerusalem ( 2 Kng 16:1-4). Because of this great evil, Jesus will refer to the "hell of the damned" as Gehenna, a Greek variation of the Hebrew word Hinnom.(1) Isaiah was sent by God to deliver both messages of hope and warnings to Ahaz, but the king did not have confidence in the prophet.
  4. Hezekiah son of Ahaz (716-687 BC): Unlike his father, Hezekiah was a good king and faithful to Yahweh (2 Kng 18:1-20:21; 2 Chr 29:1-32:33). Upon assuming the throne he immediately took steps to eradicate idolatry from the land of Judah and promoted devotion to Yahweh in a way the people had not seen in many decades. He ordered the purification of the Temple and consecrated the people to Yahweh in a covenant renewal ceremony. During his reign the Northern Kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians. Isaiah was the chief court prophet during his reign and Hezekiah accepted Isaiah's counsel spiritually and politically. When the Assyrians threatened the kingdom, God rescued the nation of Judah.

Isaiah's Mission

Isaiah 1:1 is the beginning of the Book of Isaiah but it is not the beginning of his story. The story of Isaiah's commissioning isn't told until chapter 6. Instead of beginning with Isaiah's divine call, the Book of Isaiah begins by giving the historical setting of his ministry and the scope of his mission.

Israel's covenant with Yahweh was unique in comparison to all previous covenants that had been formed between Yahweh and individuals and continued through their families (see Yahweh's Eight Covenants). The covenant with Israel was a corporate covenant in the sense that the covenant partner was the unity of an entire people. The purpose of Isaiah's mission was to act as Yahweh's prosecuting attorney in announcing a covenant lawsuit (a riv in Hebrew) against the Israelites, and calling forth the Sanctions of the divine judgments to be imposed if the covenant treaty with Yahweh was abandoned by Israel. The prophets Hosea and Micah were contemporaries of Isaiah, and they also called covenant lawsuits against Israel and Judah during the same period (see Hos 1:1; 2:2/2:4 and Mic 1:1-4).

The Israelites had, as a nation, violated the binding covenant with Yahweh who they swore to obey as their only God and great King at Mt. Sinai in the beginning of their history as a nation (Ex 24:3-7). God's covenant treaty with Israel resembles other secular covenant treaties in the ancient Near East, and was set down in five parts; see the review of the treaty in Moses' last homilies in the Book of Deuteronomy.(2)

1. Preamble: Identifying the lordship of the Yahweh the Great King. Deuteronomy 1:1-5
2. Historical Prologue: Recounting the Great King's previous relationship to his vassal (the Exodus liberation). Deuteronomy 1:6-4:49
3. Ethical Stipulations: Enumerating the vassal's obligations (the Law of the covenant). Deuteronomy 5:1-26:19
4. Sanctions: Promised blessings for obedience and judgments for disobedience. Deuteronomy 27:1-1 30:20
5. Succession Arrangements: Arrangements and provisions for the continuity of the covenant relationship over future generations. Deuteronomy 31:1-34:12

See the document on the website concerning covenant treaties in the ancient Near East and Yahweh's covenant treaty with Israel.

Yahweh's Covenant Lawsuit against Israel and Judah

Moses' warning to the children of Israel: When you have fathered children and grandchildren and have grown old in the country, when you have grown corrupt and made some image, doing what Yahweh regards as wrong and so provoking his anger—today I call heaven and earth to witness against you—you will quickly vanish from the country which you are crossing the Jordan to possess. Your days will not be prolonged there, for you will be utterly destroyed. Yahweh will scatter you among the peoples, and only a small number of you will remain among the nations where Yahweh will have driven you.
Deuteronomy 4:25-27

Now listen to what Yahweh says: "Stand up, state your case [riv] to the mountains and let the hills hear what you have to say! Listen, mountains, to the case [riv] as Yahweh puts it, give ear, you foundations of the earth, for Yahweh has a case [riv] against his people and he will argue it with Israel."
Micah 6:1-2

Isaiah 1:2-9 ~ As Yahweh's Agent, Isaiah calls a Covenant Lawsuit against an Ungrateful Covenant People
2 Listen, you heavens; earth, attend, for Yahweh is speaking, "I have reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. 3 The ox knows its owner and the donkey its master's crib; Israel does not know, my people do not understand." 4 Disaster [Woe/alas], sinful nation, people weighed down with guilt, race of wrong-doers, perverted children! They have abandoned Yahweh, despised the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away from him. 5 Where shall I strike you next, if you persist in treason? The whole head is sick, the whole heart is diseased, 6 from the sole of the foot to the head there is nothing healthy: only wounds, bruises and open sores not dressed, not bandaged, not soothed with ointment, 7 your country a desolation, your towns burnt down, your soil, foreigners lay it waste before your eyes, a desolation like devastation by foreigners. 8 The daughter of Zion is left like a shanty in a vineyard, like a shed in a cucumber field, like a city besieged. 9 Had Yahweh Sabaoth not left us a few survivors [sariyd/sarid], we should be like Sodom, we should be the same as Gomorrah.

The main themes of the Book of Isaiah are justice and redemption, and the five most significant sub-themes of the book of Isaiah are: the sovereignty of God, the preservation of the faithful remnant, the Servant of God, the Holy One of Israel, and the Messiah.

  1. The sovereignty of God: The concept of the sovereignty of God appears throughout the book, in fact, this concept is assumed on every page of Sacred Scripture. God is the sovereign Lord of the universe and over every nation and people on the face of the earth. He is actively at work in the events of the world, guiding all human history in accordance with His divine plan.
  2. The preservation of the faithful remnant of the covenant people: Several Hebrew words are used to describe a "remnant" or "remainder." The Hebrew word sariyd (saw-reed) is used in the concept of a "remnant" or "remainder" of a group God has chosen and preserved. They are the covenant people who are looking to God's direction in obedience to His divine will working through them (Is 37:4, 32). They return to the Lord and experience the fullness of His salvation when others do not (Is 10:21-22; Mic 2:12). The "faithful remnant" is a theme that began in Genesis in the salvation of Noah's family, and is a theme that is repeated throughout the books of the Old Testament and in the New Testament (in the New Testament see, for example, Rom 9:27; 11:5; Rev 11:13; 12:17 and 19:21).
  3. The Servant of God: The Hebrew word ebed, "servant/slave", occurs almost 800 times in the Old Testament and of those occurrences it is found 39 times in Isaiah. The "servant" bows in complete submission of his master's will. Isaiah uses the term to describe God's covenant people as a group (Is 41:1; 54:17), but more often as individuals who submit and serve God faithfully (Is 22:20; 42:1; 52:13). In the New Testament, the Greek word doulos has the same meaning as ebed. It occurs 122 times in the New Testament. Jesus told several parables about what it meant to be a faithful servant in His Kingdom, and St. Paul described himself as a "servant of Christ" in Romans 1:1, and urged the Christians of the Church in Rome to fully submit as "servants/slaves" of God in Romans 6:16-23.
  4. The Holy One of Israel: This is Isaiah's favorite way of referring to God; the title occurs 31 times in the Old Testament and 25 times in the Book of Isaiah. Isaiah uses the title for God in both judgmental and redemptive contexts. Isaiah writes about the Holy One of Israel who has experienced the rejection of His people who have resisted His sovereignty (Is 1:4; 5:19, 24). It is the Holy One of Israel who will judge the nations who oppose Him (Is 37:23). But it is the Holy One of Israel who will act as Israel's Savior (Is 43:3) and Redeemer (Is 43:14) in delivering His people from exile to establish His Kingdom (Is 60:9, 14).(3)
  5. The Messiah: The Hebrew word mashiach literally means "anointed one" and is translated as "messiah." Kings, prophets and priests all experienced God's anointing in being set apart for service (Lev 4:3; 1 Sam 10:1; 2 Kng 9:3). The word mashiach ("Messiah") and the corresponding verbal form mashach occur only twice in Isaiah: in Isaiah 45:1 when King Cyrus of Persia is called God's messiah (the man anointed to bring back God's exiled people to the Promised Land), and in Isaiah 61:1 where there is the promise that God will anoint a specially chosen servant to bring about His earthly and heavenly kingdoms. Despite the fact that the word only occurs twice, the concept of messiahship lies beneath many of the prophetic utterances of the prophet (Is 7:14; 9:6-7; 11:1-10; 32:1-4; 42:1-4; 52:13-53:12) and are recognized by the Church as being fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

These five sub-themes appear over and over again throughout the book; look for the sub-themes of God's sovereignty, the preserved remnant, and the Holy One of Israel in chapter 1. In fact, Isaiah begins chapter one by asserting the sovereignty of the "Holy One of Israel" over His covenant people in calling the Israelites to account for their failure to keep the terms of the covenant. In the covenant ratification ceremony at Mt. Sinai, the Israelites made a covenant treaty with Yahweh and swore as a people to be obedient to that covenant in exchange for God's divine protection and the gift of a land of their own. Under the terms and conditions of the Sinai Covenant, at the covenant ratification ceremony Israel, promised loyalty Yahweh as their sovereign King and divine Father and to obey all His laws (Ex 24:3-7). In return, Yahweh promised the blessings that would make Israel a fruitful and great nation.

In God's covenant treaty with Israel the "Sanctions" referred to rewards and punishments.
Question: What were the Sanctions promised for covenant obedience in God's blessings on His people, and what did all the blessings have in common? See Ex 23:20-26; Lev 26:1-13 and Dt 28:1-14.
Answer: The covenant blessings included: conquest of the Promised Land and victory over Israel's enemies, fertility of the soil and of their people, absence of sickness, rains at the proper time for planting —in other words: health, wealth and prosperity. All the blessings are temporal.

Question: But under the terms of the covenant treaty the Israelites also understood that if they violated their covenant promises that they were to be subject to the penalty Sanctions of the covenant treaty = the covenant judgments. What did all the covenant judgments have in common? See Lev 26:14-46; Dt 28:15-68.
Answer: War, famine, sickness, invasion, exile —the reverse of the blessings. All the covenant judgments are also temporal.

There were no eternal blessings or eternal judgments until the coming of Jesus the Messiah.

2 Listen, you heavens; earth, attend, for Yahweh is speaking
The poem in verses 2-11 refers to the devastation of the land and the siege of Jerusalem, either during the Syro-Ephraimite War of 735 BC (2 Kng 16:5-9; Is 7:1-2), or the invasion by the Assyrian King Sennacherib in 701 BC, or both. In verses 2-3, Isaiah, as God's prosecuting attorney in the covenant lawsuit, calls God's witnesses against the covenant people. The tribes of Israel have broken their covenant treaty with God their sovereign King and divine Father, and now Yahweh's patience in waiting for their repentance and return to Him has come to an end. God has sent His prophet to call a covenant lawsuit, a riv/rib in Hebrew, against a rebellious people (see Is 34:8) who have become "perverted children" (verse 4).

Question: Who are the two witnesses that are called to give testimony?
Answer: Heaven and earth.

In a covenant lawsuit, the Sanctions for abandoning the covenant that were part of the original covenant treaty are called against the offenders. For examples of other prophets calling covenant lawsuits using the word "riv" see Jeremiah 2:9; 25:31; Ezekiel 44:24; Hosea 4:1; 12:2/3; Micah 6:1-2 (three times). The Hebrew word "riv" is often translated as "case", "controversy", "dispute", or "lawsuit" in the English translations, and the covenant lawsuit judgment is often pronounced in a series of "woes." The word, in both the Hebrew and the Greek, is an expression of grief and is often translated "ah", or "alas", or "woe." See for example the woe/judgments in Deuteronomy 27:15-26; Isaiah 1:4; 5:8, 11, 18, 20, 21, and 22, and those in Habakkuk 2:6, 9, 12, 15, and 19.

Question: When in the Gospel of Matthew did Jesus, God's Supreme Prophet, pronounce eternal blessing for covenant obedience and eternal judgments, using the word "woe/alas," for covenant failures? See Mt 5:1-12; Lk 6:24-26; Mt chapter 23:13-32 and 25:31-47.
Answer: The Beatitudes are the spiritual blessings promised in the New Covenant in Christ Jesus, and Jesus pronounced covenant blessings for the poor and judgments for the wicked rich who ignored their needs. He also pronounced in the seven "woes" against the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23 and eternal judgments in Matthew 25:31-46.

Jesus gave the blessings of the New Covenant in the seven/eight Beatitudes (Mt 5:1-12; seven or eight depending on how one counts them). The malice of the Pharisees and scribes and their efforts to mislead the people concerning Jesus' true identity as the promised Prophet-Messiah now results in Jesus (in His role as God's Supreme Prophet) issuing a covenant lawsuit in a series of seven/eight "woe/judgments" against the Scribes and Pharisees (Mt 23:13-33; seven without verse 14 which does not appear in all MSS; see footnote 6).

In secular covenant treaty documents and lawsuits, the false gods of the people were called as witnesses, but for Israel there is only one God, and He calls upon His creation as His witnesses.
Question: Why has God summoned heaven and earth as His witnesses against Israel? See the call for the same witnesses in warnings of covenant violations in Deuteronomy: Dt 4:26; 30:19; 31:28; 32:1 and Psalm 50:1-4. Also see the law in the prosecution of civil cases in Num 35:30; Dt 17:6-7; 19:15.
Answer: God, through His prophet Moses, warned Israel that these would be the witnesses that would testify against them if they failed their covenant obligations. Heaven and earth are the two witnesses that fulfill the requirements under the Law.

Question: In Moses' warning to the Israelites for abandoning Yahweh's covenant with them, what was to be their ultimate punishment? See Dt 4:27?
Answer: Exile among the Gentile nations.

2b I have reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me.
As God "created" human children, He also "created" the nation of Israel at Mt. Sinai when they became His covenant children and He their divine and kingly Father. He raised their generations of children and protected them from the Gentile nations who were their enemies. But now Israel has forgotten God's great works of mercy on their behalf.

Question: How have the children of Israel decided to rebel against Yahweh's divine sovereignty in a way that is similar to the Fall of Adam and Eve? See Gen 2:16-17 and 3:1-6.
Answer: They have rebelled by deciding for themselves how they will act and what laws they will obey, and how they will worship, just like Adam and Eve when they rejected God's sovereignty over their lives in their decision to decide for themselves what was good and what was evil by eating from the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

 

3 The ox knows its owner and the donkey its master's crib; Israel does not know, my people do not understand.
Domesticated animals, like the ox and donkey, are animals that are trained to "know" their master. The image of domesticated animals is one of the reoccurring symbolic images of the prophets (see handout 3 from Lesson 1). Israel was "trained" to know God, her Master by living in obedience to the Laws of the Covenant and in exercising right worship that brought Israel into a "communion" relationship with God symbolized by a sacred meal.
Question: When the Israelites are in covenant union with Yahweh, how are they like domesticated animals?
Answer: They are like domesticated animals that recognize their master and are obedient to his commands unlike wild animals who know no master.

Question: How does God the Master "feed" His obedient covenant people like the donkey at the master's crib? See Lev 7:11-15/7:1-5; Dt 30:15-17.
Answer: God provides for their needs; they are nourished spiritually by His Law and in His liturgy of worship, both figuratively and literally in the peace offering and the sacred communion meals.

In Hebrew the sacred meal of the communion sacrifice that was eaten in the Sanctuary was with bread and red wine was called the Todah ("thanksgiving").

Question: Why does God accuse the people, through His prophet, of not "knowing" and not "understanding"?
Answer: The people are now refusing to recognize ("know") their Master's sovereignty over them and are refusing to understand the consequences of their actions.

In the covenant lawsuit, Yahweh sends his prophet to call out His judgment against a rebellious and ungrateful people. Isaiah will act as God's prosecuting attorney, enumerating Israel's failures and the justice of God's divine judgment against them. However, it is a judgment that is not meant to be simply punitive but redemptive, as are all God's judgments, to call His people to repentance and back into covenant fellowship with Him as their One True God.

4 Disaster [Woe/Alas], sinful nation, people weighed down with guilt, race of wrong-doers, perverted children! They have abandoned Yahweh, despised the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away from him.
In verses 4-9, God's prosecutor describes the condition of the people: in abandoning the covenant they have abandoned Yahweh. Verse 4 is Isaiah's first use of the title "Holy One of Israel"; notice that Isaiah has used God's holiness in contrast with the people's wickedness. Isaiah will announce 7 specific "woe" judgments against the sinful covenant people in Isaiah 5:8, 11, 18, 20, 21, 22 and 10:1.

5 Where shall I strike you next, if you persist in treason? The whole head is sick, the whole heart is diseased, 6 from the sole of the foot to the head there is nothing healthy: only wounds, bruises and open sores not dressed, not bandaged, not soothed with ointment ...
Question: What is the legal charge against the covenant people?
Answer: Treason; betraying one's country and/or one's king/leader.

Question: How did their treason begin?
Answer: It began as a spiritual malaise in the heart before it became an act of rebellion that affected the "entire body" of the people.

7 your country a desolation, your towns burnt down, your soil, foreigners lay it waste before your eyes, a desolation like devastation by foreigners.
Isaiah describes how Israel's sin has even affected the Promised Land. Sometimes God had allowed the consequences of their sins to be associated with the Land to bring the Israelites to their senses in judgments that were meant to be redemptive. He warned that He would do this in Leviticus 26:14-29, when the land would become desolate because of drought or the harvest devastated by enemy invasions and famine. Perhaps the people saw these signs as flukes of history or nature, but Isaiah saw them as God's instruments of divine judgment against a wayward people.

Question: In Leviticus 26:14-29, what do the judgments have in common and when are the same warnings repeated by Moses in his last homily and his final warnings to the people? See Dt 28:15-68.
Answer: They are temporal judgments like those in the Sanctions for violating the covenant innumerate in the lists of covenant judgments in Leviticus 26:14-46 and Deuteronomy 28:15-68.

8 The daughter of Zion is left like a shanty in a vineyard, like a shed in a cucumber field, like a city besieged. 9 Had Yahweh Sabaoth not left us a few survivors [sariyd/sarid], we should be like Sodom, we should be the same as Gomorrah.
Zion is a favorite term of Isaiah's for the people of God and occurs 47 times with 29 of the occurrences in chapters 1-39.(4) The "daughter of Zion" is a metaphor/symbolic title for Jerusalem and the Old Covenant Church (see Is 10:32; 16:1; 37:22; 52:2; 62:11). Even Jerusalem will not be left untouched. The magnificent city and her Temple will be reduced to a ruin.
Question: In what three ways does Isaiah describe the daughter of Zion's desperate situation?
Answer:

  1. A shanty in a vineyard or a shed in a cucumber field.
  2. A city under siege.
  3. Like Sodom and Gomorrah.

The "vineyard" mentioned in verse 8 is one of the symbolic images of the prophets for Israel. The shanty and shed are temporary structures that provide no protection, a besieged city is cut off with no way out, and in the Bible, Sodom and Gomorrah are symbols of the depth of human depravity and corruption deserving total destruction. Isaiah warns the people in verse 9, if God had not intended to intervene to preserve members of the covenant people, none would survive as in the judgment against the sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah where only Lot and his daughters were saved. What is important is the promise that He will preserve a remnant. In verse 9 the word translated "survivors" is in Hebrew the word "sariyd/sarid" (saw-reed), from the root "sarad" (saw-rad), meaning "to escape or survive, to remain." The verse is better translated Had Yahweh Sabaoth not left us a remnant, we should be the same as Gomorrah. It is the first mention of the sub-theme of the divinely preserved remnant. The same Hebrew word, "remnant"/sariyd, in Isaiah 1:9 is found in Joel 3:5/2:32 ~ All who call on the name of Yahweh will be saved, for on Mount Zion will be those who have escaped, as Yahweh has said, and in Jerusalem a remnant whom Yahweh is calling. Yahweh Sabaoth means "Yahweh of Hosts" and is a reference to God as the commander of the armies of the heavenly host of His servants the angels.

Isaiah 1:10-20 ~ The Indictment against the People and an Invitation to Repent
10 Hear what Yahweh says, you rulers of Sodom; listen to what our God teaches, you people of Gomorrah. 11 "What are your endless sacrifices to me?" says Yahweh. "I am sick of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of calves. I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. 12 When you come and present yourselves before me, who has asked you to trample through my courts? 13 Bring no more futile cereal offerings, the smoke from them fills me with disgust. 14 New Moons, Sabbaths, assemblies "I cannot endure solemnity combined with guilt. Your New Moons and your meetings I utterly detest; to me they are a burden I am tired of bearing. 15 When you stretch out your hands I turn my eyes away. You may multiply your prayers, I shall not be listening. Your hands are covered in blood, 16 wash, make yourselves clean. Take your wrong-doing out of my sight. 17 Cease doing evil. Learn to do good, search for justice, discipline the violent, be just to the orphan, plead for the widow. 18 Come, let us talk this over," says Yahweh. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. 19 If you are willing to obey, you shall eat the good things of the earth. 20 But if you refuse and rebel, the sword shall eat you instead —for Yahweh's mouth has spoken."

Question: In verse 9 Isaiah referred to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah that were destroyed in Genesis chapter 19 in the time of Abraham because of the wickedness of their people. But in verse 10 the rulers of Sodom and the people of Gomorrah become Isaiah's metaphors for what?
Answer: Rulers of Sodom is a metaphor for Israel and Judah's wicked kings and Gomorrah is a metaphor for the apostate people of both kingdoms.

The breaking of the covenant has come about through the actions of the people that are recounted in verses 10-16. Two reasons are given. The first is in verses 11-14
Question: Verses 11-14 are not a rejection of the liturgy of sacrifice and worship or the feast days that God established at Mt. Sinai. Instead, what is God rejecting? See 1 Sam 15:22-23; Hos 6:6; and Ps 51:16-17 to help you with your answer.
Answer: Yahweh is rejecting their hypocrisy in offering sacrifice without submission and repentance, and worship that lacks the humility and genuine affection of the offerer for God and the desire to serve Him in justice. The lack of the righteous disposition of one's soul makes the actions of sacrifice and worship as empty and meaningless as a body without a soul.

When God established the liturgy of worship in the desert Sanctuary, which was later transferred to the Jerusalem Temple, He set in place weekly, monthly and annual feast days and sacrifices to mark the liturgical year. These feasts and their sacrifices were offered in addition to the single, whole burnt offering of an unblemished male lamb offered in the morning and in the afternoon (Jewish evening) liturgical worship service with unleavened bread and red wine. This premier sacrifice was to last so long as the Sinai Covenant endured and was called the `olat ha-Tamid (usually translated as the "daily sacrifice"; see Ex 29:36-42; Lev 6:2-6; Num 28:3-8). These two daily liturgical worship services, offered seven days a week, were for the atonement and sanctification of the covenant people as a whole. In addition, within the liturgy of the Tamid worship service, there was:

Question: How did these sacrifices and feasts become an affront to God?
Answer: These God ordained sacrifices and feasts were meaningless if the people didn't come to God's altar with pure and humble hearts, having repented their sins and in having demonstrated works of faith and justice for the poor, the widow, and the orphan. To come to worship at His altar any other way was an affront to God in offering Him a counterfeit faith and false worship.

Isaiah lays out the second reason for their failure in verses 15-16:
15 When you stretch out your hands I turn my eyes away. You may multiply your prayers, I shall not be listening. Your hands are covered in blood, 16 wash, make yourselves clean. Take your wrong-doing out of my sight.
Question: What is the second reason for the spiritual malaise that has led to covenant failure and alienation from God?
Answer: The people literally have blood on their hands as a result of their mistreatment of their own people and others.

The laws governing fair treatment of the poor and dispossessed didn't only extend to Israelites but to all foreigners living in the land (Ex 22:21-24).

In verses 17-20, Isaiah announces that God has issued a call for repentance: 17 Cease doing evil. Learn to do good, search for justice, discipline the violent, be just to the orphan, plead for the widow. 18 Come, let us talk this over," says Yahweh. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. 19 If you are willing to obey, you shall eat the good things of the earth. 20 But if you refuse and rebel, the sword shall eat you instead —for Yahweh's mouth has spoken."
In verses 17-20, Isaiah gives both God's hopeful remedy and God's warning.
Question: What is the hope that is offered in a remedy to avoid judgment?
Answer: God's invitation is for the people to repent their sins individually and communally and to turn back to God who will forgive their sins and make them holy again, if they are willing to be obedient. If they repent and obey (verse 19), then they will have the blessings of the covenant.

Question: What is the warning in verse 20?
Answer: But if they refuse, they will reap the covenant curses of judgment.

Isaiah 1:21-23 ~ A Lament for Jerusalem's Sinful Condition
21 The faithful city, what a harlot she has become! Zion, once full of fair judgment, where saving justice used to dwell, but now assassins! 22 Your silver has turned into dross, your wine is watered. 23 Your princes are rebels, accomplices of brigands. All of them greedy for presents and eager for bribes, they show no justice to the orphan, and the widow's cause never reaches them.

In these verses, the people of Jerusalem become representative of the sins of the people as a whole as the Lord expresses sorrow for what once was a faithful people: what was pure has become impure, what was precious like silver (Jerusalem's rulers) has become base and rebellious.

Question: Verse 21 is a reflection of what prophetic image and what stage in the image plan? What city that was the "faithful city" has become a "harlot"? Consult the chart on the reoccurring prophetic images of the prophets. See Ez 16:1, 8-16.
Answer: It is part of the symbolic image of covenant marriage. When Yahweh's bride, Israel, worships false gods she becomes an adulterous "harlot" who is unfaithful to her God and divine Spouse. The once faithful city that has become a "harlot" is Jerusalem where the people came to worship at Yahweh's holy altar.

Question: What are the two moral extremes Isaiah uses to describe the present condition of the city of Jerusalem in verse 21?
Answer: The once faithful city has become like a harlot, a woman faithful to no one, and the city once full of righteous people is now full of murderers.

22 Your silver has turned into dross, your wine is watered. 23 Your princes are rebels, accomplices of brigands. All of them greedy for presents and eager for bribes, they show no justice to the orphan, and the widow's cause never reaches them.
Question: What two symbolic images does Isaiah use for Jerusalem and her people in verse 22?
Answer: When silver is melted down, the impurities float to the surface. The purity that was once Israel/Jerusalem has become filled with impurity. The other symbol is the wine that was once the best wine of the covenant (symbolic images of the prophets), but is no longer the best wine since it is diluted by their sins.

Question: Why are Jerusalem's rulers, the princes of the royal house, named in Isaiah's indictment as accomplices in verse 23? Why was the condition of leadership important then and is it important today?
Answer: It is because the people follow the moral examples of their rulers for good or for evil. It is why it is so important have morally fit leaders.

Question: What accusations are made against Jerusalem's rulers?
Answer: Those who were entrusted with the responsibility for justice have become, through their own greed, actively promoting injustice by taking bribes and exhibiting a total disregard for the poor and oppressed.

Isaiah 1:24-26 ~ Jerusalem's Coming Purge and the Result
24 Hence, the Lord Yahweh Sabaoth, the Mighty One of Israel, says this, "Disaster, I shall get the better of my enemies, I shall avenge myself on my foes. 25 I shall turn my hand against you, I shall purge your dross as though with potash, I shall remove all your alloy. 26 And I shall restore your judges as at first, your counselors as in bygone days, after which you will be called City of Saving Justice, Faithful City."
It is for the reasons stated in verses 10-23 that Yahweh declares the Israelites not His cherished covenant people but His enemies.
Question: What is God's promise in verse 25?
Answer: He will, however, through His divine judgment and His mercy, purge the people of their sins and restore their judges so that Jerusalem will again be called a "City of Saving Justice, Faithful City."

Isaiah 1:27-31 ~ God Promised Blessings for the Repentant and Judgment for the Transgressors who Persist in Sin
27 Zion will be redeemed by fair judgment and those who return, by saving justice. 28 Rebels and sinners alike will be destroyed, and those who abandon Yahweh will perish. 29 How ashamed you will be of the terebinths which gave you such delight; and how you will blush for the gardens which you chose! 30 For you will be like a terebinth with faded leaves, like a garden without water; 31 the strong will become like tinder, his work like the spark; both will go up in flames together, with no one to put them out.

This passage concludes the introduction to the book. Through His prophet, God promises redemption for the repentant and destruction for the wicked. The word "redeemed" means to buy back or to restore from a fallen state. But God doesn't just want to "buy them back" —He wants to restore their moral character to their previous holy state as a people in communion with as their great King and divine Father. Verses 29-30 make it clear that idol worship was the sin of their "rebellion" in which they "abandoned Yahweh." The trees and gardens referred to in verses 29 and 30 are part of the rituals of idol worship. Sacred groves with gardens were part of the cultic worship of Baal and Astarte (see Dt 7:5; 16:21; Judg 3:7; 1 Kng 15:13; 2 Kng 17:10; Is 17:8; 27:9; 57:5; 65:3; 66:17; Jer 17:2). All of idol worship is associated with worshipping creation: Baal was a storm god and Astarte was the goddess of fertility. The same kind of misdirected reverence for nature is practiced by those who reject marriage as a sacrament of the Church in the presence of God as their witness for marriage on a beach or in a grove of trees in honor of nature.

Verse 30 warns that those who chose to worship creation in the form of a garden will find no spiritual water to satisfy their souls. But choose the One who made the garden, and there will be streams of "living water" (Ps 1:3; Is 30:23-25; 35:6, 7; 41:18; 44:3; 48:21; 55:1; 66:12; Ez 47:1-12).
Question: What did Jesus say about choosing God the Son in John 7:38; also see Is 44:3?
Answer: He said, "Whoever believes in me, as Scripture says: Rivers of living water will flow from within him,'" (NAB) alluding to Isaiah 44:3

31 the strong will become like tinder, his work like the spark; both will go up in flames together, with no one to put them out.
Fire is a sign of divine judgment in both the Old and New Testaments. It is also a sign of the purifying power of God the Holy Spirit. The prophecy is that one day the proud and arrogant, who consider themselves the mighty of the earth, will be stripped bare and burnt up like fire burns weeds or chaff —the unproductive and useless part of a plant that is good for nothing but burning.
Question: Jesus used the same imagery in His Kingdom parables in Matthew chapter 13. What did He say would be the eternal judgment for those who believe they are self-sufficient and do not need God nor do they need to recognize or abide by His laws in the Last Judgment? See Mt 13:40-42
Answer: He said: "Just as weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth" (NAB).

But in Isaiah's time there was still time for redemption, and God's judgments were temporal and not eternal —even death only had a hold on all souls until the coming of the Christ. God intends to justly punish Israel for her sins, but His purpose is to call back a faithful remnant who will continue to bring forth His divine plan for the redemption of all mankind, which He promises in the next passage.

Chapter 2

But in days to come Yahweh's Temple Mountain will tower above the mountains, rise higher than the hills. Then the peoples will stream to it, then many nations will come and say, "Come, we will go up to Yahweh's mountain, to the Temple of the God of Jacob, so that he may teach us his ways and we may walk in his paths; for the Law issues from Zion and Yahweh's word from Jerusalem." He will judge between many peoples and arbitrate between mighty nations. They will hammer their swords into ploughshares and their spears into bill-hooks. Nation will not lift sword against nation or every again be trained to make war. But each man will sit under his vine and fig tree with no one to trouble him. The mouth of Yahweh Sabaoth has spoken.
Micah 4:1-4

Isaiah 2:1-4 ~ The Promise of the Everlasting Peace in the Last Days
1 The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, concerning Judah and Jerusalem: 2 It will happen in the final days that the mountain of Yahweh's house will rise higher than [will be the chief of all] the mountains and tower above the heights. Then all the nations will stream [nahar] to it, 3 many peoples will come to it and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of Yahweh, to the house of the God of Jacob that he may teach us his ways so that we may walk in his paths." For the Law will issue from Zion and the word of Yahweh from Jerusalem. 4 Then he will judge between the nations and arbitrate between many peoples. They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into sickles. Nation will not lift sword against nation, no longer will they learn how to make war.

The "final days" in the age of mankind is the era of the Messiah (as defined by St. Peter in Acts 2:14-17, quoting from Joel 3:1). Those final days will end in judgment in "the Day of the Lord" or the "Day of Yahweh." The vision and prophecy in Isaiah 2:1-4 is the same vision and prophecy that was given to Isaiah's contemporary, the prophet Micah in Micah 4:1-3. In Isaiah 2:1-4, the coming blessing of the "final days" involves three aspects:

  1. Yahweh's house (the Temple)
  2. Yahweh's people (the people in covenant with Yahweh)
  3. Yahweh's peace (restoration between Yahweh and His people)

2 It will happen in the final days that the mountain of Yahweh's house will rise higher than [will be the chief of all] the mountains and tower above the heights.
God's "house" is His Temple and the center of worship for the covenant people. This prophecy announces the day when God's "house", His center of worship, will be the chief or head (r`osh in Hebrew) of all religions on the face of the earth. In Scripture, "mountain" became a symbol for the revelation of God and the authority of His Kingdom; see the chart on the Holy Mountains of God. Most of the revelations of God took place on mountains: for example, the Sanctuary that was the Garden of Eden was on a mountain (Gen 2:10-14); God revealed Himself to Israel in the theophany on Mt. Sinai (Ex 19); Jesus gave the spiritual laws of the New Covenant on the Mt. of Beatitudes (Mt 5:1-12); Jesus was transfigured in His glory on the Mt. of Transfiguration (Mt 17:1-8); and He ascended to His glory on the Mt. of Olives (Acts chapter 1).

Then all the nations will stream [nahar] to it, 3 many peoples will come to it and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of Yahweh, to the house of the God of Jacob that he may teach us his ways so that we may walk in his paths." For the Law will issue from Zion and the word of Yahweh from Jerusalem.
It was at God's "house", the Temple built by King Solomon on Mt. Moriah, that God was revealed to His people in Isaiah's time and where the covenant with Yahweh was continued in every generation. But in the prophecy, Isaiah presents a beautiful image of all peoples of the earth "streaming" or "flowing" (nahar the verb) to God's "house" like a great river (nahar the noun means "river").

 

4 Then he will judge between the nations and arbitrate between many peoples. They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into sickles. Nation will not lift sword against nation, no longer will they learn how to make war.
Finally, the "peace" of God is promised in the "final days" when He will judge the nations. This peace does not refer simply to absence of war but to the spiritual wholeness of the people in their relationship with God. Sin will come to an end, and peace between God and man and peace within all mankind will prevail.

Question: When was the beginning of the fulfillment of this glorious vision? When will it be completed? Hint: it was not fulfilled in the Old Testament. See Acts chapters 1-2 and 2 Thes 4:16.
Answer: The Kingdom with authority over all nations of the earth that calls all peoples to come and be part of it is Jesus' Kingdom of the Church. It will be the New Covenant Church born on Mt. Zion on the Jewish Feast of Pentecost in 30 AD, when the Holy Spirit will come to fill and indwell the disciples of Jesus praying in the Upper Room on the tenth day after Jesus' Ascension. The vision of eternal peace will not be completed until Jesus returns in His Second Advent that brings about the Last Judgment.

Rabbinic Judaism and Millennialist Protestants believe this "peace" will come about in a literal political and religious earthly event when the Messiah will rule the earth with the physical Jerusalem as the center of His earthly kingdom (Millennialist Protestants believed Jesus' rule will last a thousand years). The Catholic Church has always seen the fulfillment of this passage first in the establishment of Jesus' Kingdom of the universal Church that has authority over all nations and to which all people of the earth are invited to worship, and fulfilled in the Second Advent of Christ in which the living and dead will face a final judgment and the righteous will live eternally in a new Heaven and earth over which the light of Christ will shine eternally.

In verses 1-3, "Zion" and "mountain" in verse 3b represent the people of the New Covenant Church (the Upper Room where the Pentecost event took place was located on the literal Mt. Zion in the old section of Jerusalem). "Jerusalem" symbolizes a new center of religious authority in Rome under the guidance of Christ's Vicar, the Pope, and the Magisterium, the successors of the Apostles in the Messianic Age —the final age of mankind. Verses 4-5 will be fulfilled in Jesus' Second Advent followed by the Last Judgment when Jesus will judge the nations, as He described in Matthew 25:31-46, after which He will usher in a new Heaven and a new earth in which sin and death have been vanquished and all redeemed men and woman live in harmony in the presence of the Most Holy Trinity (Rev 21:1-7; CCC 762). God's judgment on His Old Covenant people is necessary to bring forth a faithful remnant of Israel who will continue to fulfill God's divine plan for mankind's redemption in the Age of the Messiah and His Kingdom.

Questions for reflection or group discussion:
Question: Why did Isaiah begin his book with the purpose of his mission rather than the account of his divine call to service?
Question: How can Yahweh's judgment in verses 11-17 be a warning for us concerning our participation in the liturgy of worship, in our offering of the sacrifice, and in the observance of the Sacraments and the feast days in our liturgical calendar? What did St. Paul write as a similar warning in 1 Corinthians 11:23-29?

Endnotes:
1. See 2 Kng 23:10; 2 Chr 28:3; 33:6 for the practice of human sacrifice in the Valley of Hinnom. Jeremiah cursed the site (Jer 7:31-32; 19:2-13; 32:35), and Isaiah described it as a place where the rebels against the Lord God will be strewn (Is 66:24). Jesus always calls the Hell of the damned Gehenna (see Mt 5:29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mk 9:43, 45, 47; Lk 12:5) and never Hades, which in Greek means the "abode of the dead", a synonym for the Hebrew "Sheol." Also see Jam 3:6 where St. James calls the Hell of the damned Gehenna.
2. In most covenant treaties for ancient Near Eastern nations, there is a category between "sanctions" and "succession arrangements"; it is the category of "witnesses." Where this section appears in Hittite treaties the "witnesses" are Hittite gods who are called upon to bring retribution on the vassal who violates the covenant treaty. Sometimes the pagan god witnesses are expressed in the natural elements they represent, such as mountains, winds, etc. In Sacred Scripture this same element exists in which the natural formations or elements of God's creation, like mountains and winds, are witnesses to God's promises or His wrath (Is 41:1-7; 55:12-13), or the altar built by Joshua in Joshua 24:26-27 because He is the true Lord of the natural world. In the covenant lawsuit ("riv") announced by the Prophet Isaiah, the heavens and earth are called upon as witnesses to God's covenant lawsuit against Israel (Is 1:2). This section of witnesses is usually missing from the biblical covenant treaty format, however, in the New Testament the inspired writer of the Letter to the Hebrews identifies the Communion of Saints who stand as God's witnesses to the New Covenant in Christ (Hebrews 12:1).
3. The title "Holy One of Israel" is used to refer to God 31 times in the Old Testament and 25 times in the Book of Isaiah: 1:4; 5:19, 24; 10:20; 12:6; 17:7; 29:19; 30:11, 12, 15; 31:1; 37:23; 41:14, 16, 20; 45:11; 47:4; 48:17; 49:7; 54:5; 55:5; 60:9, 14. Job calls the Lord God the "Holy One" but not the "Holy One of Israel" because there was no Israel in his time. The first use of "Holy One of Israel" is in Psalms 71:22.
4. For more information of the use of the word "Zion," see the document "Zion and the Presence of God." The only Old Testament book that uses the term "Zion" for the covenant people more than Isaiah is the Book of Psalms.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2015 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Catechism references for this Lesson:
Is 1:1-2 CCC 762 Is 1:17 CCC 1435
Is 1:6 CCC 1293 Is 1:24 CCC 269
Is 1:10-20 CCC 2100 Is 2:2-5 CCC 762
Is 1:16-17 CCC 1430 Jn 7:37-39 CCC 244, 690, 694, 738, 1287, 1999, 2561