22 March 2011

Isaiah 1:1,16-20

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


The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah stand in the Bible as models of the evil city. In Genesis 18:16 - 19:28 the story is told of how God destroyed them as a result of the behaviour of the residents of the city. The story makes it clear that there were very, very few who lived as they should. Their society accepted behaviour that was wrong. And in the end they faced the consequences.

Isaiah is speaking centuries later. He makes it clear that though people still do wrong, God will forgive and give them another chance, if they turn away from wrong and do what is right. God is like that - forgiving time and again. But the prophet says something else as well. He assures the people that if they do what is right "you shall eat the good of the land" (verse 19) - life will be good.

Can we believe the prophet? Don't people who do wrong often get away with it. Of course that is often true if we only look at material things, such as the heartless industrialist sacks his loyal workforce and makes a fortune in the act. But Isaiah is going deeper than that. His words promise something more. In modern terms he is saying - in the end ethical living rewards its adherents with deeper treasurers: integrity, truth and, as a result, friendships and the love of family. It's a complex thing, and often it seems otherwise. But Isaiah is affirming that ultimately it's the ways of God that win through; in the end God's way is the best.

To Ponder

What are the true signs of success in a society? Is it by how it treats the poorest and the weakest? How else might we judge a society?

History doesn't always seem to reward those who are just, or does it in the end? In what ways can we see happening what the old hymn says: "God is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year"?

How far should the Church today speak like the prophets of old about the consequences of not caring for the environment?

Bible notes author

The Revd John Howard

John Howard is a minister in the Methodist Church, at present serving as the chair of the Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury District. He is married to Mary with three adult children, and has just become a grandfather for the first time.