12 July 2010

Isaiah 1:11-17

"Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow." (v.17)


The country of Judah was facing a crisis. The book of Isaiah comes from the time when Israel had been divided into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. Israel had now made an alliance with Aram (or Syria) and was threatening Judah from the north, while Edom attacked from the south.

But there was an even bigger crisis looming...

Israel, Aram and Edom were relatively weak countries. In the long term, the bigger threat would come from Assyria, which was gaining power and creating an empire. Ahaz, king of Judah, chose to meet the threat from the smaller countries by becoming a vassal of the king of Assyria. To show his allegiance he offered treasure plundered from Solomon's Temple and introduced aspects of Assyrian worship into the Temple in Jerusalem. The story is told in2 Kings 16.

As is so often the case in a time of crisis, the people of Judah were faced with a fundamental question. Why was it that the people of God appeared to be so weak? If God is powerful then surely God's people should be able to demonstrate that power on earth?

Isaiah presented them with a vision of God turning away from their worship and rejecting their prayers - at the very time when they needed God the most. Why would this happen? Isaiah argued that the people of God had forgotten that God cares about justice and obedience more than worship and sacrifice.

In making this argument, Isaiah joined a long line of prophets going back to Samuel (1 Samuel 15:22) and leading up to Jesus. In the ancient world worship was often seen as a way of getting God on your side... "If I offer this sacrifice to God, then God will ensure that I am successful". Isaiah argued that God cares more about the poor and the weak than about sacrifices.

To Ponder

Looking at your own life, how do you balance worship with God's care for justice?

Can you imagine God saying "I have had enough" about any part of your church's life? What aspect do you think it might be? What could you and your church do about it?

Bible notes author

The Revd Judith Rossall

Judith Rossall is a Methodist tutor at Queen's Foundation in Birmingham. Before moving to Queen's, she was a circuit minister and taught at STETS in Salisbury.