“What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams… bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations – my soul hates; they have become a burden to me… 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 1:10-17
A crescendo has been building; perhaps you’ve felt it. Like a great sermon this book of Isaiah achieves a climax that is both earth-shattering and utterly predictable. It will feel like a surprise that you knew was coming. Chapter 64 concludes the prayer that began yesterday, and in chapter 65 the LORD proves – simply by giving a response – His total distinction from the idols He’s been dismissing.
The LORD answers, but also reveals that His plans are more profound and universal than Israel’s temporal concerns. When He announces “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered…” He is answering and exceeding the prophet’s prayer that the LORD would rend the heavens. Israel will not simply be restored, but the world itself will be reordered: people “shall build houses and inhabit them, they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.” No longer shall they “build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat.” Furthermore, “The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like an ox… they shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.”
And the upheaval is not complete. In chapter 66 the LORD asks, “What is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of rest?” for “Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool.” The LORD compares the one who would slaughter an ox to one who would kill a man, the one “who sacrifices a lamb” to “one who breaks a dog’s neck.” For when the LORD called, “no one answered; when I spoke, they did not listen; but they did what was evil in my eyes, and chose that in which I did not delight.” “But this is the one to whom I look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” In the end, we find the beginning.
Try to listen as an Israelite sitting in the shadow of Solomon’s abandoned temple; or as an exile standing on the banks of the Euphrates. The LORD’s answer to his prayer is to rewrite the patterns of history and nature and worship itself. Is this comfort?
Our verse for this week is Acts 1:8: But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
Isaiah 64 through 66. Now let’s read it!
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”