Last year I read through the entire book of Isaiah. I had attempted it before and gave up somewhere in the middle because I had trouble really seeing where I fit into the whole picture. It felt like the same pathetic story over and over…Israel messes up, God punishes them and then everyone moves on and it happens all over and again. I found myself shouting at my bible on many occasions, “Ahh, you idiots! Don’t you remember what God did for you? Why did you keep doing such stupid stuff?!” In an effort to move through the book quickly, I lost sight of the deeper reflection that exemplifies the overwhelming difficulty that comes with persevering through the Christian life and the amazing grace that is bestowed upon our lives as we trudge forward.
As I poured over the book of Isaiah, with a more thorough inspection I began to see myself in the pages. I began to see my mistakes, my idols, my complaining, and my ungratefulness. I saw my need for recognition, my desire to be secure and my trust in other people instead of God. Somewhere within the pages of this old story, I found myself. And as I put myself in the place of the Israelites I began to see how easy it was, even being the chosen people of God, to get distracted, confused and frustrated when life gets hard and suffering lasts longer than you expected.
In the weeks to come, I want to take you back through the journey I traveled last year as I sought answers from one of the most challenging books of the Old Testament. I will be taking a much more laid back and application oriented approach since I am not at all a theologian or a bible scholar. So…here we go with Chapter 1 verses 1-20
Isaiah is a prophet who is completely upset over the state of the nation of Israel. God has given him a vision of the terrible mess they are and will be in. In the first few verses Isaiah begins to describe the complete treason that the people of God had committed. God created them, raised them and cared for them and yet they act as if they do not know Him at all. Even animals know their owners and respond to their voice but the people of Israel were deaf to the voice of God because of their rebellion. It is here that I began to reflect upon my own inability to hear God. I had often blamed it on God’s silence and His disinterest in my life but it was at this point that I began to contemplate…Am I not hearing God because I am not following Him like I should? Do I have rebellion in my heart? Do I long too much for this world? Have I, too, turned from the one who made and sustains me? Do I even want to hear what God has to say?
The prophet continues by describing the deep affliction that has overtaken the nation in his vision. Using a picture of a battered body, he describes how the nation is railed on, beaten and nearly destroyed and yet they keep coming back for more because they cannot see the horrible state that they are in. Fire has burned their cities and people from other nations have stepped in to take what doesn’t belong to them. In the broken shambles of Israel, I see my own search for answers over the problems I have been facing but my unwillingness to actually seek God for healing and restoration. When I have felt rejected, ignored and completely crushed by people, have I leaned on the everlasting, understanding, all-consuming love of God or have I been consumed by my own self-pity and self-loathing? When my health wasn’t all that I hoped it would be did I search for a way to glorify God and trust Him more or did I fall on the words of doctors and long for the answers from the next medical test? Did I keep returning for more afflictions because I hadn’t cast myself on the only one who could free me?
In verses 12-17 the people of God are called out for their lack of connection between their actions and their heart. They acted religiously without true worship. They took part in sacrifices, gathered for religious celebrations, and even recited prayers but their hearts were not turned to God. How has my life mirrored this false worship? Have I turned church into a ritual? Do the praises I sing have little meaning because my heart is not focused on God? Have I performed rote prayers before a crowd, thinking only of how I sound? Isaiah presents a remedy for this false worship: cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. What have I done to fight evil in my life and to seek good? Do I seek justice and attempt to correct oppression or do I turn a blind eye because I’m afraid to step up? Do I help the fatherless and the widow’s or do I selfishly seek my own comfort? Looking outside myself and following the cause of Christ is the only way to bring true worship and break the cycle of actions without heart.
But thankfully I am not left to beat myself up with how wicked my heart is and how much I have failed. Verses 18-20 sum up the wonderful grace of God that we can all experience if we turn to Him. My sins were a horrible stain upon my life that I could never remove. But God has removed those and made it so I don’t have to dwell on what I have done wrong. Because I have come to Him with a willing and obedient heart, I can repent and leave the whole mess behind. God requires obedience but he also gives abundant grace.