The book of Isaiah starts with a very brief introduction and then thunders into a striking message. The message is for the rejecting nation of Israel. It speaks to a nation that had come full circle, from rejoicing in Jehovah God to living in a purely religious emptiness. In verse 2 the prophet communicates the Words of God, telling Israel how God had brought them up as a child and yet they rebelled against Him. In verse 3 the prophet uses striking analogies to depict the foolishness of this rebellion. The ox and the donkey knew who their master was but Israel did not.
“Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward."
Backsliding is the term we would use today. For the Christian this means turning from a vibrant walk with God to the beggarly elements of the world. In the next 7 verses the Bible uses scathing vibrant language intended to arrest the attention of these people. Let me however call your attention to verse 11. Starting in verse 11 down through verse 20 we find the Old religion. What is the Old Religion? It is the religion that has lost any worth, an empty ritualistic worship. Notice with me these several verses:
“11 To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. 12 When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? 13 Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. 14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. 15 And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. 16 Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; 17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. 18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. 19 If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: 20 But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it..”
First, we see that the Old Religion had become thoughtless. Notice the provoking words in verse 11, 12.
“11 To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. 12 When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?”
The thoughtlessness of their worship of God completely devalued their actions. Were they not sacrificing abundantly? Yes they were. Did it hold any value or meaning? No. The Lord asks “Who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?” In other words, why are you doing what you are doing? This question starts with the number one item that is lost when someone backslides, and that is the who of the why. The ‘who of the why’ is what we lose because our eyes have drifted away from God to something else. God is the who that gives us the why. Without God, there is no worship. In the New Testament we are told that “the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead:” (II Corinthians 5:14) When we live our lives in light of what Jesus Christ has done, the love of Christ certainly constrains us and we are dead to self. The nation of Israel was thoughtlessly sacrificing. How do we know this? Because their lives were not different from their worship of God. How can someone be walking in the presence of God and not be changed? How can someone approach the glory of God and not discover their own wickedness? How can Light not reveal what is in the darkness? God wanted them to turn back to Him.
Secondly, we see the worthlessness of the Old Religion. In verse 13, the Lord uses the phrase “Bring no more vain oblations;…” The word vain used here gives the connotation of being evil and useless. In looking at the list God gives over the next several verses we would be shocked to discover that though they were doing a lot it had no usefulness. As a matter of fact, God goes even further and calls their worship “iniquity” in verse 13. How terrible would it be to realize that all the time, energy, and effort in our religious exercises were not only worthless, but also sinful? What was the problem with this Old Religion? Well let’s recap:
It was thoughtless.
It was therefore worthless.
It was full of sinfulness.
This Old Religion was full of doing, with no heart. It was knowledgeable, but had no application. We could look at it today in our worship services as well. It would be as if we come to church and sing without singing unto the Lord from our heart. We give a tithe and an offering without any thought as to the tithe and offering we are giving. We hear the preaching of the Word of God, but truly instead of hearing the truth we hear wah-wah-wah-wah-wah. We come to an altar and bend a knee, but we do not bend our heart.
All of us have experienced this before, but the difference here is that this was the common state of the nation of Israel. Never is empty religion acceptable to God, but this describes an ongoing state. This was not just a time or two, when the world had been able to secure their attention, this was their everyday. So, what is to be done in a situation like this? Let me suggest two items. The first is stated very clearly.
“Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.”
The Christian knows the only way to be washed is by going to God admitting our sinfulness (John 13:10, I John 1:9). In doing so there must be a putting away of evil. There must be a heart that is seeking judgment and righteousness. In other words, a heart-willingness to learn to do well. Then there is of course the action of this heart attitude. Notice the Bible says “relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.” Simply put, Do right! Lip service without life service is what this verse is speaking against.
The second application can be made in verse 18.
“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
This speaks to the cleansing that can only take place when someone is saved;it is the crimson to wool, the scarlet to white. Only Jesus Christ and what he did through His death, burial, and resurrection can take our scarlet sins and make them white as snow. Perhaps it is for some that the reason their worship is empty is because their heart is empty. Titus 3: 5-7 tells us “5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; 6 Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; 7 That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” The indwelling presence of the Holy Ghost is necessary for regeneration. No amount of works of righteousness whether in a church setting or not can save anyone.
- Pastor James, Community Outreach Pastor, Sharon Baptist Church
Sharon Baptist church is an independent, fundamental Baptist church located in Hampton, VA.
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